[10 May 2011]
When The Fresh & Only’s, a San Francisco garage pop foursome are brought up, usually something about their furious creative output is mentioned. With three full-lengths and somewhere in the area of a thousand 7-inches and EP’s having been released since 2009, it’s hard to avoid the songwriting prowess (and amidst all this, constant touring as well) that the band displays in spades. One might assume that the band lives together in the studio and rarely gets a moment away. But the members of The Fresh and Only’s are no ordinary musicians.
Consider Tim Cohen, lead singer/guitarist/generally cool-as-a-cucumber guru of the band. 2010’s Laugh Tracks, his second solo release, was a largely relaxed take on the school of psychedelics that The Fresh and Only’s are old pros at. Yes, you read that correctly. Since 2009, throughout the frantic frenzy that is his band, Cohen has released three full-lengths, including Magic Trick, his latest. When the rest of the world wakes up, makes a cup of coffee and tries to wrap their head around the day, it’s likely that Cohen has already written three jammy and effervescent tracks, each one different from the last.
Therein lies the wonder not only of Cohen’s output, but his songwriting ability. Some bands get into a creative groove and can proliferate hundreds of tracks of the same vein. But as with every Fresh and Only’s release, there is a steady progression within Cohen’s solo work that showcases his depth as a songwriter and his ability to mature not only in person but on record as well. Whereas Laugh Tracks contained the hazy sonic vibe of a Sunday morning, Magic Trick may be Cohen’s attempt to put his own spin on Monday mornings. Cohen’s pipes sound focused but subtle and his lyrics concise. And while there is a healthy variety within the sonic language Cohen speaks on Magic Trick, there is a marked maturity present from his past releases. No two Fresh and Only’s releases sound alike, and Cohen has managed to channel that kind of sonic diversity into his solo work. His mantra is seemingly similar to that of Italian cooking: keep things simple and let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.
Sure, there are hints of the jangly garage that his band mates struck gold with on Play It Strange, most notably on the shuffling opener “I Am Never Going To Die” and within the crooning, sage-like beauty of “Hey Little One”. However it is the manner of which he explores other genres not with caution, but respect as to not go overboard that may be what remains most memorable about Magic Trick. Consider the mature bohemian chamber-pop burn of “Sweetheart,” (“Do I have a broken heart?/Well maybe I have a good heart/maybe I need a sweeatheart/and maybe I need to open my heart”) the spooky, folk leanings of “Legerdemain” and the bedroom electronics of “New House In Heaven”, which all stand out with a reserved elegance you might not expect from Cohen.
Normally, when a group of musicians write, record and release so much music within a short amount of time, the law of averages would insist that there would be a few duds within the collection. On Magic Trick however, Tim Cohen is proving to himself to be one of America’s underrated songwriters. And that may be his grand magic trick; Cohen is making no great leaps for attention. His progression and evolution as a songwriter is a natural one. And he reminds us of his genuine and always pragmatic intentions on “The Flower”. If he can keep up the creative streak he’s currently on, the world may soon be hearing his name a lot more often.
“Got to give me one more chance/to show the world/that all of my intentions are pure”.