The Fresh and Onlys | Play it Strange
Most Likely To: give an old wheel some new tires to kick.
There’s little doubt that San Francisco’s The Fresh and Onlys love to make music. Since releasing their self-titled debut in 2008, they set a fast and furious pace by releasing an album per year. Their sophomore effort, Grey-Eyed Girls, came out in ’09, then they released August in My Mind, a mini-album on Mike Sniper’s über-hip Captured Tracks label (occasional home to Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast, and Beach Fossils) just for good measure.
Like their erstwhile labelmates, The Fresh and Onlys dig into music history, but instead of mining the girl group sound à la Dum Dum Girls or revisiting surf rock as Best Coast does, the quartet made its name by playing garage rock tinged with psychedelia or twangy Western guitar riffs. On their third full-length, Play it Strange, the Fresh and Onlys attempt to stay the course. The album’s most successful tracks do not stray far from expectations.
Boasting a familiar sounding jangle, “Waterfall” lets the listener get comfy. Though it’s not a cover, “All Shook Up” brings new life to the phrase Elvis made famous, while still maintaining a classic feeling. Musically, “I’m a Thief” is a straightforward recreation of an early ‘60s torch song that brings twin sets and slow dances to mind.
The Fresh and Onlys stop sounding so fresh only when they stray too far from their ‘60s garage band sound. An off-kilter anthem sung just a little off key, “Tropical Island Suite” clocks in at nearly eight minutes. The song is too simplistic to be epic and too long to be swallowed whole. “Until the End of Time” bores its way to the lyrical conclusion that the singer will love the object of his affection until–you guessed it–“the end of time.” The only way a track with a title like “Be My Hooker” had a chance was if it was gutsy and zaftig. Instead, the song sounds like a crumpled mash note that never reached it’s recipient.
Play it Strange plays it pretty safe. While its best moments do resurrect garage rock’s traditional grit, The Fresh and Onlys fail to write music that embraces anything more complex or ambitious.
Listen to “Waterfall” from The Fresh and Onlys: