The Fresh & Onlys – Play It Strange

Rating: ★★★★½

Let’s face it, a lot of the stuff coming down the pipe from San Francisco is going to be labeled with some sort of psychedelic tag, but as we’re all likely to see, a great deal of the bands are starting to mature, crafting stronger songs, music that’s meant to be deemed nothing more than that, music.  The new record from The Fresh & Onlys, titled Play It Strange, still holds hints of the psych-tag, but listening closely, you’ll surely notice the great strides this band has made with this effort.

“Summer of Love” probably doesn’t do much to move the band out of the San Francisco sound, but what it does show, upon first listen, is a cleaner sounding band, though there are still haunting effects on singer Tim Cohen’s vocals.  The guitars sound much sharper, the drums have a bit more clarity, and you’ve got a winner already.  Pushing forward, “Waterfall” seems to have the faintest hint of “oohs” secretly hiding in the far background, but that’s just one extra touch to make you fall in love.  The chorus is perfected, with the slightest echo as Tim sings “fall with me into the water,” but the greatest part is that spaghetti western guitar line beneath the group’s normal jangle.  This is perhaps one of the brightest moments on Play It Strange.

If you’re looking to see the band bring on something a bit more headstrong, look no further than “All Shook Up.”  You’ll get pounding drums in your ears as soon as you press play, highlighting one of the oft overlooked factors in the band’s success, their rhythm section.  While it may not be the strongest performance by Cohen, the intermingling guitar lines fit perfectly into the fuzzy bass lines and steady beat.  It’s reminiscent of classic 50s rock n’ roll, just cowering beneath a hazy fog of darkness, sort of like the cover art. It’s funny, but if you remove some of the recording processes from The Fresh & Onlys, you’d probably find a really solid pop band lurking somewhere.  “Fascinated” brings to mind various lesser-known Brit pop groups of the early 90s, but the band bring it out through a lens of their own.  The melody is catchy as you would expect, but you have to listen closely, digging deeper into the relevant nostalgia the group offer up to your ears.

While the majority of the songs on Play It Strange fall under the 3 minute range, there are some real slow-burners, none more special than “I’m a Thief.”  Cohen has this coy vocal walk through during the verses, pleading for his lover to remain faithful to her heart, which he claims to have stolen.  But, the chorus is a bit brighter, not lyrically, but emotionally, providing a bit of swing to the song, just before they close it out in instrumental fashion. Such songs clearly illustrate that the band has gone back further than the psychedelic era, drawing from more classic rock sounds as their influence, but they’re coating it in the dingy atmosphere of dive bars and seedy hole-in-the wall establishments.  It’s clear that The Fresh & Onlys are growing, and with the prolific songwriting of Tim Cohen, Play It Strange is just a sign of greater things to come.


Download: The Fresh & Onlys – Waterfall [MP3]


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