Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Fresh And Onlys - Play It Strange
01. Summer Of Love
03. Strange Disposition
04. Tropical Island Suite
05. I'm All Shook Up
06. Be My Hooker
08. Plague Of Frogs
09. Who Needs A Man
10. Red Light, Green Light
11. I'm A Thief
Over the past few years, San Francisco has given rise to a new scene of garage-pop bands pushing the frustrated proto-punk sounds of the 1960s in different directions. Girls are indie-pop classicists who hit heartbreak even when they don't reach for it. Thee Oh Sees take the scrapiest, ugliest sounds on the Nuggets compilations and run with them. Sonny & the Sunsets play cartoonish games with the skewed innocence they hear in oldies-radio fare. And then there are the Fresh & Onlys, who seem in love with the era when garage-rock thud and folk-rock jangle first fell for each other. The guys in the band aren't revivalists, exactly, but they are pastiche artists. And in their florid, carefully orchestrated chug, we hear bits of any number of historical pop moments: starry-eyed Buddy Holly pep, Byrdsian guitar sprawl, willfully silly Donovan Mellotron idealism, scraggly Sebadoh sighs, bored Dandy Warhols stoner glamor.
Since forming a few years ago, the band has kept up a steady stream of 7" and cassette releases, and Play It Strange is their third LP in as many years. But this one finds them starting to pull all those ideas into something a little more focused, something easier to digest. For the first time, they've left the confines of their home studio, and now they're working with an actual producer-- former Fucking Champs guy Tim Green, who might not exactly be Daniel Lanois, but he's still a big step for this band. Their smart little melodic flourishes have always been there, but now you don't have to strain your ear to hear them.
Even at their most straightforward, the Fresh & Onlys still find plenty of room to play around in the margins of their songs. "I'm All Shook Up" is a relative rave-up, but organs blurt and bass murmurs deep in the mix, adding melodic accents to the pounding. "Who Needs a Man" is a swampy rush that ends before you know it, but the ghostly shades of surf-guitar exotica keep things restless. And then there's "Tropical Island Suite", this band's shot at eight-minute "Hellhole Ratrace" grandeur. A straight-ahead, simplistic bash dissolves into muffled feedbacky noise halfway through, then returns as a slower, strummier lope. It's as if the band couldn't decide which way to play the song, so they just went with both ideas.
Singer Tim Cohen has a flat, affectless voice, nowhere near as expressive as peers like Christopher Owens or even Sonny Smith. But that baritone works nicely in the middle of the mix, and it's fun to hear him sounding bored of being a player on "I'm a Thief" or trying to escape information-age overload on "Waterfall". My favorite line comes on "Be My Hooker": "I can hear the open sea calling me, but I don't know, I don't know"-- wanderlust and indecision rendered in one quick, direct stroke. He keeps things concise, and the whole album finishes up business well before the 40-minute mark. May this band continue to crank out inventive little nuggets like this long into the future...www.pitchfork.com