Release Date: Oct 12, 2010
Record label: In the Red Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Noise Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
There must be something in San Francisco's water. Prolific, under-the-radar bands like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees are cranking out strong psych and garage music at a furious pace. Add the Fresh & Onlys to that list. Play It Strange is the band's third full-length in under two years, in addition to their hordes of EPs, compilation tracks and singles.
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.
Some bands begin with their masterpiece and take a few albums to fizzle out and finally call it quits. Other bands take a few albums to mature, to find their unique sound. Back in the beginning of rock, this was the model of success; bands would cut their teeth on covers before even risking their own compositions. The model changed as rock evolved, and debut albums meant more.
The Fresh & Onlys' debut record, Grey-Eyed Girls, was a murky, clattering, quite often thrilling mash-up of '60s West Coast psych, the Cramps, and ramshackle garage rock that put them at the top of the noise pop heap. On the follow-up, Play It Strange, the San Francisco group cleans up the clatter and noise and ditches the psychobilly influence in favor of a slightly twangy sound that creeps up on country-rock at times. It’s a trade-off most bands make as they mature, nuance instead of noise, and the Fresh & Onlys manage to do it well by keeping most of the things that made them good, like the catchy songwriting, the intense performances, and singer Timothy Cohen's deeply idiosyncratic vocals.
I’m not sure if it’s possible for someone who hasn’t picked up a guitar and tried to write a good song to understand how GODDAMN, MOTHERFUCKING HARD it is to write not only a good song but even an original-but-mediocre one. When songsters like The Fresh & Onlys’ Tim Cohen — formerly of Black Fiction, whom I reviewed years ago and was iffy on — string together bright light after bright light, it makes most of us wonder why we can’t get our bulbs to burn as strongly, does it not? Last year’s full-length, Grey-Eyed Girls, for me, was one of 2009’s Revelations, despite the impression it was a stop-gap, an in-betweener, with Playing it Strange serving as the (I’m quoting a press release for the first time ever here) “full-on studio record. ” That’s not how it turned out, though: Grey-Eyed Girls may turn out to be the record people are going to remember dearest.
This has been a banner year for San Francisco's Fresh and Onlys: a U.K. tour with Deerhunter, an invitation (via Matt Groening) to play All Tomorrow's Parties, festivals in New York and Big Sur, and a rapid succession of 7" records that have been selling out as fast as labels can release them. Ending the year with Play it Strange and a November tour with Clinic puts a fine feather on their 2010 hat.
The Fresh And Onlys must be Johnny Cash fans. The best track on the band’s third album, “Until The End Of Time,” borrows heavily from the Man In Black’s trademark country twang, yet it presents it through the lens of lo-fi indie pop. The result is a song (and an album) that feels Southern while not abandoning the summery tendencies that have been associated with lo-fi recently.