On the Record: The Fresh & Onlys
[Introducing: KHSU Music Director Mark Shikuma’s occasional column about new records. — Ed.]
The Fresh & Onlys, Long Slow Dance (Mexican Summer)
The threads that intertwine the current SF Bay Area indie music scene and its principal players are intriguing and numerous, emerging from a garage-pop base and initially propelled by Thee Oh Sees and The Intelligence’s John Dwyer (also of Coachwhips legend) and his record label Castle Face. With melodic pop sensibilities as the common denominator, the musical spectrum was (and remains) wide, including bands/artists diverse as Kelley Stoltz, Sonny And The Sunsets (fronted by Sonny Smith) and The Sandwitches, as well as the aforementioned Dwyer-led bands.
What makes this loose collective intriguing is how these bands have evolved. Following in the heels of the superb psychedelic-country pop of Sonny And The Sunsets’ recent release, Longtime Companion, The Fresh & Onlys have fully embraced certain elements of early ’80s British pop, including The Smiths, Felt, Orange Juice, The Go-Betweens and The Jazz Butcher, while refining the band’s overall garage sound. Long Slow Dance, the band’s fourth full-length release, is neither a mere replication of early ’80s UK pop nor a clever update of a Nuggets or Pebbles compilation. Instead, it stands as a collection of contemporary pop gems culminating into their most satisfying recording to date.
From the brisk chords of the album’s opening cut, “20 Days And 20 Nights,” to the hook-filled title track, the album recalls how Pat Fish (aka The Jazz Butcher) mined various pop styles for his nearly-forgotten 1984 tongue-in-cheek classic, A Scandal in Bohemia. The Ennio Morricone/ Spaghetti Western feel of “Executioner’s Song,” with Tim Cohen’s faint melancholic vocal delivery, delivers an oddly beautiful fatalism that would make Ray Davies proud. The swift, simple sophistication of “Presence of Mind,” with its intricate layer of melodic riffs, passes swiftly, barely noticed.
The Fresh & Onlys have not completely shed their lo-fi garage roots either, offering the bashing “Euphoria” and “Foolish Person,” a psych-garage blow-out that tilts clearly towards the band’s ties to contemporaries such as Ty Segall and Woods (The Fresh & Onlys’ second full-length, Grey-Eyed Girls, was released on Brooklyn’s Woodsist label, and F&O’s guitarist/bassist Shayde Sartin and Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere were both part of a collaborative project, Wooden Wand).
In past interviews, the band’s core members — Wymond Miles, Shayde Sartin and Tim Cohen – talk about not spending enough (or not allowing enough) time for production on their previous recordings. With Long Slow Dance, it’s apparent that the band and co-producer Phil Manley’s attention to the production, arrangements and slight embellishments nicely coincide with the band’s stronger songwriting. It’s an encouraging sign of a burgeoning bi-coastal musical community that, in some respects, mirrors the Denver-based Elephant 6 collective in the ’90s. This slice of the indie music scene isn’t only restricted to the SF Bay Area — it’s part of a much larger, eclectic field, one that includes the latest by Thee Oh Sees (Putrifiers II), Ty Segall (Twins) and Woods’ superb Bend Beyond, and it’s yielding an unexpected, pop-based bumper crop.
Recommended cuts: “Long Slow Dance,” “20 Days and 20 Nights,” “Presence of Mind,” “Executioner’s Song,” and “Foolish Person”