When describing a change in their sound, bands love to utilize buzz-words such as “organic” and “natural evolution”. Though when said band releases one record throughout the standard two or two and a half year cycle, one can’t help but wonder if their change in sound is much more a matter of prerogative than natural change. And that’s all well and good. It’s just that, before using those buzz words, bands should familiarize themselves with the discography of San Francisco’s Fresh and Onlys. After arriving at Long Slow Dance, their latest full-length, (And fourth in the last four years) the noted gradual progress of the band’s sound will give true meaning to an organic evolution.
After all, evolution favours the strong. And with Long Slow Dance the four-piece continue their progress from a stock San Francisco garage rock act, becoming an act capable of building a mythology on songwriting prowess alone. While their contemporaries fall by the wayside in a pool of sloppy and generic ‘60s-inspired garage punk, the strong songwriting combo of guitarist/vocalist Tim Cohen (Himself a noted solo artist with four (!) of his own full-length releases) and bassist Shayde Sartin cover brave new territory and don’t look back.
Largely devoid of the straight-up bangers that their early releases were laden with, Cohen has brought a collection of rolling and jangly tracks to the table that bend and curve at just the right time. The songs heard on Cohen’s solo work, including those with Magic Trick, have always lied just below the surface. And there’s no denying that Cohen’s style of songwriting has comfortably found its way into the Fresh and Onlys sound. Yet from the onset of “20 Days and 20 Nights”, the damn near perfect harmonizing capabilities of his three pals in the Onlys bring Long Slow Dance to great heights.
“I’ve finally stopped thinking about the process of the recording of the record and all the technical stuff you go through,” Sartin mentioned in a “Making Of” clip. “Now I just hear the songs, hear the music and the memories and not say ‘Oh, I wish we would’ve done this, or maybe we should’ve tried this.’” No amount of studio could’ve complicated songwriting this benign. The title track moves effortlessly, with guitarist Wymond Miles maintaining such a pace that these calm numbers take on emotional weight reminiscent of the Smiths’ best work. The eleven tracks on Long Slow Dance pummel with grace, remain powerful though small in stature and ultimately treat listeners with an immense amount of care.
“Presence of Mind” moves with a breezy but effective motion. Whereas the Fresh and Onlys used to find themselves at home in dank bars in the wrong part of town, the songs on Long Slow Dance favour the open air. Ripe with melody and harmony, the band has run a fine toothed comb through their past work and kept only that which is contemplative, meaningful and catchy. (See: the reflective “No Regard”)
In shedding their skin and feeling at home with their lighter sound, Long Slow Dance ends up having the same effect as a classic evening in the dog days of summer: long and patient, but incredibly memorable. Perhaps it’s the lack of fear towards the sound they’re moving towards which has truly aided the band. In fact, the only track that comes across as rushed is the one that sounds most like the Fresh and Onlys earliest work, “Euphoria”.
Naturally however, these guys know how to recover from a slight slip-up. By the next track, the slightly tribal “Foolish Person”, the groove-heavy rhythm section of the band, Sartin and mammoth drummer Kyle Gibson steer the ship back in the right direction. “I don’t want to be a foolish person,” sings Cohen over a limitless rhythm. If the band keeps moving in this direction, it’s hard to imagine that happening. It’s about time that the Fresh and Onlys start getting mentioned in other circles than just the San Francisco garage rock renaissance. Long Slow Dance will surely turn heads and will make the debate for the best rock record of 2012 now a much more interesting one.
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// Notes from the Road
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