The West Coast garage-psych scene is one of the most exciting collectives in rock ‘n’ roll, a series of forward-thinking artists who are also actively looking backward, invoking the guitar tones of old in complete defiance of the mainstream. San Francisco’s The Fresh & Onlys have been doing this since 2009, back when they’d stomp on fuzz pedals and spiral into sonic oblivion like scene-mates Thee Oh Sees.
They were a younger band then, and they don’t walk that route so much anymore. Last year’s Long Slow Dance saw a broodier quintet trade searing feedback for glistening jangles. Frontman Tim Cohen — already an aching romantic — became the melodic focal point, his croon placed higher in the mix. Suddenly, The Fresh & Onlys sounded like The Go-Betweens.
The Soothsayer EP further expounds on this shift in aesthetic, as it features the band’s most elaborate songwriting to date. The opening title track ascends and recedes both musically and emotionally rather than remain static, like the band’s early garage rock. Tapping into that ’80s, Mitch Easter melancholy, Cohen keeps his words characteristically vague (“You have to look in, to look out/ So say the soothsayer”) as soft verses swell into a punchy chorus.
These complex songs are a real test for The Fresh & Onlys — a risk, even. So, to trial-run the experiments on a short EP was wise. The contrived “Forest Down Annie” is a psyched-out haze that would’ve bogged down an LP, but its inclusion here is just the band saying, “We made this, here it is, who gives a shit.” Then there are nuggets like “Drugs”, a catchy slice of power pop that’s borderline single-worthy.
Soothsayer finds diamonds among risky, non-album experiments. The Fresh & Onlys play to this charm, offering up good songs and bad songs via a harmless 22-minute release. If anything, it’s a perfect setup for the band’s forthcoming full-length, which is bound to be their most ambitious yet.
Essential Track: “Soothsayer”, “Drugs”