FRESH AND ONLYS Play It Strange CD/LP

Next to their self-titled record, more of a garage album (which was, albeit, good), Play it Strange retains the fuzz but is an improved and poppier record, with layered acoustic and electric guitars, hints of tropicalia, old-fashioned lyrics about G-rated romance. There’s more of a band identity that’s been solidified, it seems.

Play it Strange feels longer than its 36 minutes, but this isn’t because it’s an exhausting listen; not at all. The songs here are drawn and thought out, ranging from the only mildly throwaway (a rather surf-inspired “All Shook Up”) to the poorly named (“Be My Hooker”) to numbers clocking in at nearly eight minutes (“Tropical Island Suite,” an unthinkably complete song with punk drumming, harmonies, noise giving way to steady rhythm). “Tropical Island Suite” could stand alone, in truth.

Singer Tim Cohen sounds at times intimidated, not quite confident in the way he carries himself, almost as though he’s singing on a stage for the first time. There’s a romantic quality to his voice, a boyishness, even, that comes out in the form of that timidity, and it helps to make the Fresh and Onlys appear so much more likable and perhaps personable than one would expect from a straight-up garage rock band, a scene into which they often get lumped. And his voice, churning out aw, shucks moments like “I just wanted to say hi/tell me what are you fascinated by?” and “I’m a thief/and I’ll take anything I need/and I believe/that your heart belongs to me” is pure charm, the stuff of old-fashioned rock and roll songs about love.

On paper, the Fresh and Onlys have the potential to sound cheesy and overly self-aware. But in execution, the music and lyrics sound nothing but genuine—and really, not everyone wants to fuck a bitch and sing about it, you know? Play it Strange is a solid arrangement of music, not kitschy enough to be merely about style, and it’s got quite a bit of lasting power for something shoved so deeply into a scene. [In The Red]

-China Bialos

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