Release Date: Jun 10, 2014
Record label: Mexican Summer
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
The Fresh & Onlys don’t like to stay put, and with House of Spirits, their fifth album in as many years—and on almost as many labels—this is certainly the case, perhaps to a fault. The album’s first single “Bells of Paonia,” a melodically-driven meditation of distortion and a thumping kick drum that borders on shoegaze, is followed by the brooding western twang of “Animal of One,” which would be right at home accompanying the opening credits of a Tarantino film. The transition is a bit jarring.
Even though they were reared amid San Francisco’s lo-fi bonanza, it didn't take too long for the Fresh & Onlys to opt out of the garage rock arms race. On the Bay Area quartet’s 2012 LP, Long Slow Dance, it swapped lo-fi gristle for nu-romantic vibes, pairing up singer Tim Cohen’s surreal but self-conscious lyrics with shimmering, Smiths-like guitar riffs. But if you expected jangle-pop ebullience while approaching “Bells of Paonia,” the first single from the band’s fifth full-length, House of Spirits, you might come away feeling a bit confused.
San Francisco has always had a fairly fertile underground music scene. Recent years have seen a boom in critically adored bands creating records that often feel as though they could have been crafted at nearly any time within the last 45 years or so, employing a very specific aesthetic that creates a musical through-line from the early psychedelic groups through contemporary acts trading in similar sonic terrain. The rather incestuous nature of the scene further aids in establishing a shared musical narrative that spans numerous bands, groups, projects and solo endeavors, creating what seems to be a fairly close-knit collective of like-minded musicians tapping into their collective musical heritage while simultaneously writing an entirely new chapter in their city’s storied musical history.
On their fourth album, House of Spirits, the Fresh & Onlys sound even more removed from the thrillingly offbeat '60s-inspired combo they were when they began. Following the path that its previous albums have taken, the band is now much more considered and calm, with a graceful reserve instead of a bouncing-off-the-walls fervor. As on 2012's Long Slow Dance, it's a tradeoff that works in their favor, and their maturation hasn't left them sounding stale or tired at all.
“The point of forgetting is so you can live”, sings The Fresh & Onlys’ Tim Cohen, and this expansive album sees the San Francisco band leaving their gritty punk past behind. From dainty torch songs (‘Ballerina’) and soaring chamber-pop (‘Animal Of One’), they sound about as far removed from the garage-rock scene that birthed them as they could get without starting a Little Mix covers act. There’s still room for some scuzz, though: the zesty ‘Hummingbird’ lands at the halfway mark, a perfect pulse-quickener, and opener ‘Home Is Where?’ meshes it all together, veering from plaintive piano notes to full on rifforama within the space of a few bars.
Fresh & Onlys leader Tim Cohen began working on his band’s new album while staying at what the press notes describe as “an isolated horse ranch in Arizona,” where he had ensconced himself with a guitar, a keyboard and a drum machine. Heading into isolation with that much gear seems a little extravagant, like bringing a crème brulee torch along on the Appalachian Trail, but hey, we live in an age of excess. The San Francisco band credits Cohen’s stint in the desert with inspiring the feel of House of Spirits, which seeks to capture the vast, open scope of the unsettled southwest.
In the case of House of Spirits, psych music implies problems at least as much as hallucinations. The Fresh & Onlys’ music has always sounded as if it were recorded beneath a brooding cloud, but never more than on this new full-length record. Compared to the straight and narrow jangle of 2012’s Long Slow Dance, House of Spirits feels forlorn, unwound, and rudderless, qualities that might otherwise detract from the enjoyment of such a thing; except in this case, the quality of the record is directly correlated to the tangibility of the thick fug of disconnection that envelops it.
San Francisco's Fresh and Onlys have been pumping out melancholy garage rock since 2008. On their fifth LP, they explore noisier tendencies: "Bells of Paonia," a wistful highlight, is laden with shoegaze-y distortion. Lead singer Tim Cohen's voice has a tunelessness that can distract from the band's music at times, but when it works, it's just right.
Tim Cohen’s band The Fresh & Onlys, by 2014, had released three equally eclectic, equally enthralling records that have gained them fans across the musical spectrum. Some fans dig their new-wave blend of pastoral psychedelia, others their raucous garage-rock tendencies. If you’re into both sides of The Fresh & Onlys’ sound, there’s a hell of a trip waiting for you on House Of Spirits.
Up to this point, just about every new release from The Fresh & Onlys has offered us the singularly bittersweet pleasure of greeting new, unexpected sonic gestures while melancholically waving goodbye to certain tics we've grown fond of. It was a peculiarly rewarding give-and-take, with each successive album and EP betraying glimmers of The Onlys' prior recorded lives, yet bravely looking onward. .
The hero’s journey, according to author John Green, is the journey from strength to weakness. Descending from affluence into poverty, from premier social stature to none, and rising back out with hardened character and one’s dignity lightly bruised, Green writes, is the mark of a true hero. This philosophy applies in a broad range of situations, but rock music is not one of them.
San Franciscan garage rock quartet The Fresh & Onlys find themselves part of the intriguing current Californian garage rock scene, which also includes acts like Ty Segall, White Fence and Thee Oh Sees. With an impressive back catalogue, as well as numerous solo projects by frontman Tim Cohen and guitarist Wymond Miles, the expectations ahead of ‘House of Spirits’ are naturally high, despite last year’s somewhat lacklustre ‘Soothsayer’ EP. From the lo-fi beginnings of their self-titled 2008 debut LP, The Fresh & Onlys have always seemed to be moving forward, changing between albums, usually for the better, but always with a keen eye towards the garage rock and psych pop of the Sixties.
On their first records since 2012’s Long Slow Dance San Francisco pop psychers Fresh & Onlys continue on their path of a moodier sort of pop music that they began on said record. Oh sure their first two full-lengths, 2009’s Grey-Eyed Girls and 2010’s Play It Strange (both very good as well) hinted at this more otherworldly, laid-back sound, but those records had gobs more energy, too. Which isn’t to say that less energy is a bad thing.
The Fresh & Onlys — House of Spirits (Mexican Summer)The Fresh & Onlys play garage pop with a phosphorescent glow, the good-time choruses tinged with a sickly pallor, the twanging surf guitar licks decaying audibly as they linger. House of Spirits is this band’s fifth album in about as many years, a little ghostlier, perhaps, than Long Slow Dance, and nowhere near as bubbly as Fresh & Onlys’ earliest material.The first thing you notice, though, is that everything is super clear and clean. (Phil Manley produced, which may be all you need to know about that.) Sometimes scraping off the fuzz reveals weakness, it’s an improvement.
The Fresh & Onlys House of Spirits (Mexican Summer) The Fresh & Onlys maintain a musically anomalous relationship to San Francisco garage-psych. Green valley guitar-sweeps and detailed narratives unfurled in a rich baritone by Tim Cohen fit more comfortably alongside the neo-psychedelic phylum of British New Wave than Thee Oh Sees. Accordingly, House of Spirits floats in dreamlike romanticism.
House of Spirits, the new album from San Francisco garage rock quartet The Fresh & Onlys largely follows in the path cut by 2013’s Soothsayer, offering more weary melodicism and late ‘60s psych-pop rust. As such House of Spirits feels comfortable, affable, and, perhaps less optimistically, often on the verge of being taken for granted or lapsing into too-familiar dullness or exhaustion. Opening track “Home is Where?” typifies this mood of bleary hooks, worn-in grooves, and washed-out garage nostalgia, bonding ragged proto-punk to the sleepy, romanticist aesthetic of The Zombies.
The Fresh & Onlys are perplexing. Although they are linked to the recently ascendant San Francisco garage rock scene, they are not really a garage band per se. Instead, they traffic in the sort of late ’80s jangle-rock best defined by Flying Nun Records’ roster, hewing particularly close to the literate sensibilities of bands such as the Verlaines, the Bats and the Chills.