Wednesday, May 11

Record Review: The Fresh & Onlys [Secret Walls, Sacred Bones Records]

By Jennifer Graciano
The bay area has undoubtedly become the Mecca of psychedelic garage acts. Listen to a track that puts you in a dazed state with layered guitars and hazy vocals and the band is more than likely from the San Francisco area. In this onslaught of similar sounds, The Fresh & Onlys manage to stand out from the pack on their latest “Secret Walls” EP. By now we should expect the Fresh & Onlys to veer from the sounds of their previous release with ease, but “Secret Walls” came out of left field. And although this was an unexpected change, it’s quickly becoming my favorite from the San Francisco psych-rock outfit.

Changing directions release after release, the Fresh & Onlys have grown into something virtually unrecognizable from their “Imaginary Friends” EP released in 2008. And don’t expect to find anything like the head bobbing jam “Summer of Love,” or the lively “Fascinated” on “Secret Walls,” instead you’ll find only remnants of the Fresh & Onlys “Play It Strange” charm shine through chords as they mute their jangly pop for a more psych defined approach.

Secret Walls is a brisk look into their new sound. Five tracks that barely make it to the eighteen minute mark, but crafted in a way that seem to last an eternity. It still has some of that pop melody the Fresh & Onlys work so well, but you might have to strain your ear to hear it as it’s morphed and elongated. A more spacious and thoughtful sound than what we‘re used to from them.

The title track opens the five song EP like a dreamy haze as Tim Cohen’s vocals share the spotlight with some guitar jamming throughout. The change from the Fresh & Onlys last release (“Play It Strange”) and this new EP is difficult to grasp; how did this happen so quickly? And why didn’t this happen sooner? I would call Cohen’s vocals ‘croons’ on “Keep Telling Everybody Lies” but I would be lying--Cohen repeats verses in a baritone growl. “Keep Telling..” is a track doused in melancholy with some stellar bass and guitar work from Shayde Sartin and Wymond Miles respectively.

Hazy guitar meanders about on “Do You Believe in Destiny” in captivating fashion. The shortest song on the EP quickly dissolves into an instrumental jam after a few sung lines. The western vibe here is undeniable, as is throughout the rest of “Secret Walls” with riffs that would find a home in any early 60s spaghetti western film. “Wash Over Us” is easily the strongest on the EP; lyrically, musically, it’s all on point with its soft chords, Cohen chants “We are puppets and our bodies are painted on/and that water’s gonna wash over us” along with Kyle Gibson’s understated percussion. “Poison Wine” closes the EP and I’ll be honest, I didn’t care for its rambling feel. It plays like it had intended to reach a certain point, but in trying to sound like an expansive piece, came off as too spaced out and never getting to said point.

The Fresh & Onlys have only gotten stronger after each release and “Secret Walls” is proof. They’re able to communicate lyrics in a narrative style while giving us time to register everything without our ears being bombarded by garage sounds as we have in the past (most of “Grey Eyed Girls” [Woodsist, 2009]). This new direction of theirs is something to be enjoyed before it slips away (as can only be expected) on the next Fresh & Onlys release. Although if they kept this sound up, I wouldn’t mind.

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