Fresh & Onlys – Grey-Eyed Girls

January 01, 1970



The Fresh & Onlys’ self-titled debut earlier this year
established the SF garage psych outfit as one of the best new bands of 2009. This
second full-length, just a couple of months later, intensifies the sound,
pushes it into slightly darker, more echoey corners, and, overall, strengthens
the case. The songwriting has gotten stronger, spookier, funnier (the album’s
first line observes, “You don’t have to pray/for beautiful skin/when you
live/in a black coffin”) and the band has improved noticeably with practice. There’s
nothing radically different about Grey-Eyed Girls, as compared to the
first record, just a sense that everything has been nailed down a little harder.


If you’re just getting to the Fresh & Onlys, here’s the
lowdown. Sometime in the mid-‘00s, Black Fiction songwriter Tim Cohen hooked up
musically with Shayde Sartin, a Bay Area go-to guy who has worked with Skygreen
Leopards, Kelley Stoltz, Citay and the Papercuts. Cohen’s background had been
in hip hop. Sartin was into punk and psychedelia. The two started writing songs
together, eventually accumulating boxes and boxes of tapes. Wymond Miles came
in to play guitar. Kyle Gibson joined as drummer. Heidi Alexander sings. Their
first album was loosely structured, rough and charming, all handclapped,
jangly-strummed enthusiasm and Barrett-esque whimsy.


Now, a summer later, we come to Grey-Eyed Girls. It
is by no means immaculate – you can hear a dog barking pretty clearly in one
track and people in the band talking in others – but still considerably more
cohesive and well-put-together than the first. As before, there’s a pronounced
1960s vibe to the Fresh & Onlys sound, a paisley swirl in their slouching
guitar lines and rickety rhythms. This time, though, it’s a bit more ominous
than before, pointing to the out-there art-garage of bands like the Creation rather
than the tailored pop of the Beatles/Kinks/Zombies.  Cohen’s voice is enveloped in a cave of spooky
reverb throughout, lending a macabre edge to “Black Coffin” and “Invisible
Forces,” and a Britpop romanticism to “No Second Guessing.” Yet while the
vocals billow and expand, the band has turned tight, tight, tight underneath.  There’s a hard headlong rush to rockers like
“D.Y.” and a tensile strength even to tea-time fantasies like “What’s His
Shadow Still Doing Here?” The guitars, hard-scrubbed and urgent, push forward
in even the most fey and delicate songs. Bite in expecting clouds of whimsy,
and you could break a tooth on the hard musical core.


Grey-Eyed Girls works better as a straight-through
listen than its predecessor, suggesting that not only is the band getting
better at writing and playing – they’re also figuring out an overarching
aesthetic. Last time out, there were some very good songs, some duller ones,
and a lot of fluctuation in style and mood between tracks. This time, every
song seems like an integral part of the album, leading one to the next in a
streamlined procession. All of which means that this unusually productive band
is very good now and likely to improve. Better keep an eye out for the next
album in, oh, maybe a month or two.


Standout Tracks: “D.Y.”, “Invisible Forces” “Black Coffin” JENNIFER KELLY



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