Album Review: Best Coast ‘The Only Place’
I get caught up in independent music because of its depth. This distance downward is a contrast of musical styles that fall in specific subgenres that are continually changing. For example, a band can be classified as garage rock while having certain lo-fi tendencies that are heavily influenced by a punk blues. This type of musical description resonates with few and most would have an easier time deciphering Finnish. These classifications are endless and ever changing. Mapping most current band’s sound by their influences can lead to a nexus, where the origins are hidden berneath a web of shifting musical labels. The varying musical influences allow for independent musicians to avoid the static and pull new influences from record to record. While this idea seems rudimentary in the present state, listeners tend to reject change. As listeners, we often place a vice on musical progression and immediately dismiss an artist that wants to try something different. The latest example of this is Best Coast with the release of The Only Place.
This record sounds dissimilar to the band’s debut release of Crazy For You. Front lady, Bethany Cosentino’s voice has transitioned into a more crisp fidelity. The garage was left open and Best Coast walked away by stepping into a sound that belongs more in the alt country genre than anything else. These changes make it difficult for many who initially pigeon holed Best Coast into a Ramones inspired clatter. That transition should be less of a surprise to listeners and should be viewed more as the next chapter in the attention-grabbing musician that is Bethany Cosentino.
Cosentino spent her first album cycle garnering attention and slowly becoming one of the most talked about musicians in the indie rock hemisphere. She leveraged her twitter account to attract engagement and broadcast her personality. She talked about her cat, drugs, and her relationship with Wavves front man, Nathan Williams. A successful brand building experiment allowed the Best Coast buzz to boom. She let her followers directly into her day-to-day life and has been able to create tremendous interest. The key here is that she was able to keep existing fans, gain new ones, and continually cause blogs to write about her without producing new music. Cosentino’s relevancy has stood on its own. It only makes sense that the quality clears and Cosentino is the focal point with the release of ‘The Only Place’
Best Coast’s songs are made to be simple. They are pop tunes about crushes, relationships, and break ups. Listeners need to understand that simplicity is the reason why Best Coast is appealing. The lack of depth makes for a quick, relatable escape for me. On “Crazy For You”, Cosentino sings. “I’m always waiting by the phone, I can’t wait for you to get home, I’m always crazy when I miss you, I’m always lazy when I miss you”. While the lyrical extent is minimal the communication is utmost. Best Coast’s messaging is direct and avoids complexity. While the sound might have changed with ‘The Only Place’, the lyrical maturation remains motionless. If Best Coast’s career were an ode then ‘The Only Place’ would be the antistrophe. The portion of the ode sung by many catchy choruses while migrating from the best, west, and then to a new direction in the east.
It takes the listener one song to realize a transition in influence. I am introduced to the change in musical direction with opening title track “The Only Place”, but also comforted by the band’s dedication to their straightforward approach with their lyrics. Line, “We’ve got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we’ve got the waves” might come off as undemanding, but sits well with those that have come to expect this sense of ease from Best Coast. Cosentino’s voice is the highlight and the music is the background. She has been the star of Best Coast from the beginning and now band member Bobb Bruno takes a step back off the long board in order to allow Cosentino to be the star.
Track, “Do You Love Me Like You Used To” sounds more like Patsy Cline than Joey Ramone, which helps reflect the musical shift of this record. This song places power behind Best Coast because it forces Cosentino to be front and center for listeners. I think that accepting this vulnerability is primary, while the change in tone is easy to acknowledge because of the appeal that her exposure presents. I would encourage listeners to lean on this track see if Best Coast still demands interest. This song is displays the ability of a band to pull from new influences while remaining true to their trouble-free lyrical approach. This is a comfortable change in route and can serve as a great barometer of agreement.
Many early Best Coast fans will shy away from this record because of its dismissarity to their initial musical dissonance. I encourage listeners to maintain consideration while looking at the big picture. Cosentinos’s rise in recognition coupled with the vast variety in independent music allow for this record to make sense to me. Like it or not, Cosentino has continued to find ways for us to continue to talk about her. The reception is up for debate, but the relevancy remains.
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Written by Brett McGrath
Album Review: The Lumineers ‘Self-Titled’
I have these moments a couple of times a week where I need folk music. An internal trigger kicks in and demands its presence. Folk is a funny type of music for me. I have always enjoyed the influence it plays in music rather than the genre as a whole. This is quickly changing. Fleet Foxes created the shift. Then bands like Typhoon and Stornoway helped to expedite my change in thought. Folk is not extravagant. It is gentle and stripped to the necessities. The honestly that this music brings is what tends to draw me in. Authentic, relatable stories where lyrics lead the listeners closer to the music is the center of folk music to me. Folk music is much like a good friend. It serves as a simple reminder to take a step back, slow down and enjoy life. My weekly folk triggers bring a certain sincerity to my overall listening experience, and this is causes me to grow closer to the genre as a whole. My latest reaction to the music from the roots has come from Colorado-based band, The Lumineers.
The Lumineers released their self-titled debut last week and I have been unable to stop listening to it. After I stumbled upon their Daytrotter session, I knew that this was a band that I needed to follow. After little more than a month of anticipation, The Lumineers have delivered. As I lie in bed, I realize that I am listening to this record for the fourth time in a row. I have no idea what happened to the time, but these songs have not only won me over, but brought me closer to folk music. Front man, Wesley Schultz is believable with his lyrics and his stories are relatable. I am captivated by the simplicity and proudly overwhelmed by the sensibility that the Lumineers offer.
The album kicks off with sweet guitar picking and introduction to the rasp of Schultz’s voice. Track, “Flowers in Your Hair” does an unbelievable job of setting the stage for the rest of this album. Neyla Pekarek (piano, cello) supports the chorus and causes listeners to be taken on a ride. Sitting just under 2 minutes, this song is the ideal pitch at the front of a record to catch listener’s attention. This is a fantastic tactic for grabbing as many early adapters as possible.
Song, “Slow It Down” is probably the simplest song on the record, but easily my favorite. The track showcases of Schultz’s honesty as a writer and it helps to create a genuine affection for me. A tale of failed love pieced together through rich imagery. Opening line, “I feel a filth in my bones, wash off my hands ‘til it is gone” provides an ugly, but honest context surrounding a lingering break. Curtains, car windows, beds and many other objects are leaned on throughout this song to paint a picture for listeners. The more I listen to this song and the others, the more I appreciate the value that The Lumineers place on imagery.
The last track on the record is “Morning Song” and I notice an interesting twist in their style with this one. This track adopts a Celtic-like vibe with the guitar riffs between Schultz’s vocal exchanges. It sounds like bagpipes could be brought in for support. I find this twist interesting, but engaging. The unexpected turn still captivates me with each play.
The Lumineers are a band that is going to continue to gain more importance for me as 2012 progresses. They are the glue that is going to keep me connected to my folk roots. This release is a must-listen for those that need a simple dose of roots music to pass through the week. While folk will never be my favorite style, I know it will always grab my interest as long as there are at least one band like The Lumineers to introduce themselves to me every year.
The Lumineers will perform at Radio Radio in Indianapolis on May 25. Tickets are available for $10 via MOKB Presents.
Connect with The Lumineers via Facebook | Twitter
Written by Brett McGrath
Album Review: Doe Paoro ‘Slow to Love’
I love surprises. Particularly pleasant surprises. I enjoy discovering an artist that, on the surface, appears a direct contradiction to my typical musical tastes, but somehow manages to earn my affection nonetheless. Such was the case with Brooklyn’s Doe Paoro, who released her debut LP Slow to Love last week.
My ears left the female R&B scene behind sometime after TLC and long before Nicki Minaj. That’s not to say that I am deaf to the genre’s bright spots. I appreciate a strong voice as much as the next listener. However, so much of what has found my ears in the last decade felt machine made, pre-packaged and thoughtless. As a result, I largely tuned out.
Enter Doe Paoro. Her debut release is accessible and radio-ready without reverting to cliché, formulaic banality. Paoro’s voice is left to dance in front of a stark, minimalist backdrop. The album’s sparse production brings the singer’s strengths to the forefront, allowing her emotions to shine rather than get lost in the shuffle.
Stereogum was apt to cite Erykah Badu as a prominent influence on the album’s debut single “Born Whole” in their Band to Watch post last week. The track certainly bares more resemblance to Badu than other prominent 90s R&B vixens. On “I’ll Go Blind” Paoro strides closer to the masculine end of the spectrum, calling to mind Musiq Soulchild or Maxwell’s best work. Listen below.
This isn’t to say that Slow to Love is a flawless home run. “Trying to Impress” and “Body Games” toe the line of predictable, boy-crazy pop music. But the ablum’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses by a long shot. A refusal to pigeonhole Paoro’s talent has resulted in a release that could appeal to a broad cross-section of listeners, much in the way that Lykke Li was able to accomplish last year.
I will be interested to see how this release fares in 2012. At its best, Slow to Love can be gorgeous, haunting and danceable. The question will be whether Doe Paoro’s vision is cohesive enough to become a release that the masses will latch to. Name your price for a digital download via Bandcamp. Watch the video for “Born Whole” below.
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Written by Rob Peoni