A collection of spooky goodness.
San Francisco’s Fresh & Onlys return with a collection of spooky goodness we may not have known we wanted. Core members Tim Cohen and Wymond Miles are joined by a rotating cast of players that float in and out, including original F&O drummer James Kim and former members Shayde Sartin and Kyle Gibson, to offer eight new tracks that sound like pieces captured from the wind, sonic specters we catch glimpses of before they fade into the ether leaving us only with their memory.
Even hard-chargers such as the titular piece have that haunted feel. You could categorize the weighty beats and ass-wiggling rhythms as Springsteen-esque but only if you’re catching the Boss on a barely reachable station on a two-lane highway at three in the morning. There’s also a rawness about that tune (and others here) that you won’t find anywhere near the mainstream: The sounds are hallucinatory through and through, and nothing builds to the big climaxes one expects from radio rock. Even “One of a Kind,” which flirts with classic surf sounds, never stoops to formula, thwarting expected structures and remaining all the more exciting for it.
Others have walked this path before: One can trace parts of Love and Rockets, early Cult and some of the cowpunk emerging from Los Angeles before Henry Rollins became the face of Black Flag. “Qualm of Innocence” could have walked straight from a vintage record collection and onto your turntable. If you didn’t know better, you might swear you heard it in some low-budget Emilio Estevez flick from the late ‘80s. None of that’s pejorative; rather, it speaks to Cohen and Miles’s tendencies to fully grasp the sounds of a bygone era, then add surprising flourishes that ultimately place the material in this moment in time.
Still, for all the talk of space and spirits, “Impossible Man” comes within inches of being a fist-waving, sweat-soaked concert favorite. It pops and pows in all the right places, triggering thoughts of the accompanying lighting cues as you bob your head to the hooks and raise your fist in solidarity. The closing “Black Widow” perfectly encapsulates this outfit’s talents: The lyrics are informed by a naked emotional quality. Sometimes, the performance is intimate enough one might get the sense they’re sitting in on a confession. If the track sounds like a darker, more personal take on Dream Academy’s “Life in a Northern Town,” so be it.
This sixth effort from the Fresh & Onlys won’t surprise longtime fans but it proves as good a place as any for newcomers to pick up the torch. The dark nakedness of the material and its reluctance to bow to trends speaks volumes about the duo’s integrity and the continued vision both men have for the future. This music is impossibly direct while maintaining a deep air of mystery and ambiguity that welcomes repeated listens and invites deeper understanding. More than that, it’s easy to believe that bigger, more powerful stuff is on the horizon.