The Fresh & Onlys are certainly fresh, but I don’t know that they’re only anything. Aside from being pretty expert aesthetic blenders, they are also growing in prominence in San Fransisco’s burgeoning garage pop scene. Though, that just means there are a lot of similar bands to be more prominent than. Whether it’s Thee Oh Sees or Sic Alps, these SF-sters take their garage pop and dash in their own noisy, surfy, or psychedelic flavors. Some bands, like The Fresh & Onlys, take all these additions, throw them together, and hope things go well. Luckily for them, over their as-of-yet brief career, it’s largely worked out. Play it Strange, the group’s third album, is no exception.
On their last couple of discs, the dudes recorded in bedrooms. For this one, they stepped into the studio with Fucking Champs mainstay Tim Green as producer. As such, everything’s a little cleaner, a little easier to pick out…but not exceedingly so. There’s still that signature grime all over everything, but to a scientifically accurate degree.
Opener “Summer of Love” kicks things off right, demonstrating that controlled fuzz. The music’s just clear enough, the guitar and bass separate, chugging forward with a classic rock style. But vocalist Tim Cohen’s pipes are a step scratchier, faded, and drugged. Lead single “Waterfall” follows, easily the album’s best tune, the song’s brilliant catchiness derived only in part by the dorky TV-radio debate.
But it’s really down to that sort of jukebox-influence sound that keeps this album fresh, if you’ll excuse the usage. “Tropical Island Suite” employs extra fuzzy feedback, “Who Needs a Man” has some surfy twang in the guitars, “Plague of Frogs” is almost folksy, western. It’s not even that everything comes off as honest or real. Rather, it’s that they’re so obviously posturing that it’s clear they’re doing it for the fun of it, their sense of humor as on display as their half-tossed-off desire to craft fun, rollicking garage rock.
And all of this just makes the near eight minute long “Tropical Island Suite” that much stranger. For a band that seems to do so much of their work off the cuff, such a long song should go one of two ways: aimless, meandering, and over-long or intensely structured, out-of-left-field song. And, as usual, The Fresh & Onlys frustrate expectations. It doesn’t fall into either camp, instead wavering back and forth, a fast section and a slow version of that same section separated by a feedback-laden “bridge.”
This isn’t an album of expertise or perfection, and intentionally so. It’s one where a bunch of goofballs throw things at a wall, see what sticks, then keep that along with some of the stuff that fell on the ground. They take their best ideas and run with them, but they’re not afraid to test out some other ones either. There’s something unique, bold, even fresh, about this attitude, but when it comes down to it they’re not the only ones making this kind of music. Put together, it’s a solid disc, one that bodes well for more, but nothing to make you forget about some of the other garage rock bands out there.