Fresh & Onlys – Long Slow Dance

January 01, 1970

(Mexican Summer)

 

www.mexicansummer.com

 

After hearing the beautiful and underrated Ruler of the
Night,
recorded under the
moniker Magic Trick, earlier this year, I was more than excited to wonder how
Tim Cohen (plus the other F&O’s) were going to approach their next
album.  With the intensely brittle, emotional world of Ruler in my
mind, I was expecting to be completely blown away by the visceral qualities
that the band’s next piece of discography would likely be chock-full of.

 

The opening track of Long
Slow Dance,
“20 Days and 20 Nights,” gives a hint of sordid emotionality. 
But more important, it becomes immediately apparent what the listener is about
to experience, a piece remarking on Springsteen-style power pop with an Old
West aesthetic blanket laid over it. Tons of polish in the mix. Not
the shaking or bursting or drowning feelings I had in mind at all.

 

For the next eight songs, this becomes the mantra of what is
Long Slow Dance.  There’s some beautiful connectivity between all
the sonic decisions taking place.  Guitar tones feel obsessively put
together.  Synths feel equally tweaked, as do the drums.  The whole
mix has this meticulous quality to it.  Which leads me to a point of
contention: why the fuck are the Fresh & Onlys considered a garage
band?  The organics of everything are laid out very succinctly, in true
garage form; but the hyacinth’s perfect mask on the cover into the periwinkle
blue background – that’s not a coincidence. As far as album covers go, it’s
pretty crazy to get this close to the images sonically conjured.  
I guess people could theoretically have MacBooks or PhotoShop gurus or
top-quality producers in their garage now or something… I digress, but you
should know that this album is probably as closely related to the sound of the Shins as it is to that of their friend and collaborator, garage king Ty
Segall.  

 

I am not saying it’s not okay to change your aesthetic
vision – it absolutely is.  And for the most part I do love the way that
Fresh & Onlys go about trying to accomplish this goal. “Yes or No,” for
example, has a drum track that feels a bit simplistic in comparison to how
everything else is so obviously picked apart – he guitar builds especially
stand out here – but that contrast is striking and effective. Or thee
title-track with its extreme Polynesian influence – there’s some beautiful play
between the vocal and guitar filigree, more obsessive mixing. And then, in
minor stand-out, “Presence of Mind,” the melody is crazily infectious, and the
mix itself feels like one of the most interesting on the record.

 

“Dream Girls” is the first moment we get any
sort of dark and krauty psychedelic confessional to crest.  The breakdowns
from chorus to verse see these really fun percussive melodic bounces come in,
which leads the track into a kind of weirdly positive “aw shucks, my life
sucks” mode. But then the next three tracks are largely dismissible, feeling like
undeveloped ideas that weren’t that great to start with. Granted, there are
some intriguing melodic figures on “No Regards,” and “Euphoria” reigns in
some real power, but the tracks’ most useful feature seems to be extending the
album’s length while expanding the musical palette very minutely.

 

At this point, I really don’t care about listening to the
rest of the album.  While Long Slow Dance seems extremely well done
and thought out, its scope is just not wide enough for me to get lost in its
world.  It’s like watching a movie that you can tell is awesome, yet it
just isn’t for you.

 

But then …. “Foolish
Person” starts, and after listening to this song upwards of 50 times, I’m still
blown away.  Every fresh spin brings something new to the table. 
Here’s an attempt at synthesizing
those ideas:

 

 

This had to have been
brought about by a really crazy experience.  The two pieces of the tune
have really thoughtful symmetry.  Not just time-based, but emotively
too.  They play on the idea of repetition, growing in their adamancy as
they go on.  The vocal line is much more than simplistic.  It’s dark
and grudging in its simplicity.  And the way the guitar tone deconstructs
as it increases in its exploration in the second half – that’s really poetic in
itself.  Furthermore, the piece commences with a drone that starts with an
airy and compact flow, but ends in one that’s anything but.  All of the
sounds deconstruct and feel like they can’t be put back together.

 

 

There’s ambiguity as to what the song does, and in the
clearness of the aesthetic trajectory of the rest of Long Slow Dance,
this is mind-blowing.  It could be a sort of pastiche into a different
time as part of a caricature series (to be honest, that’s what the rest of the
album seems to remark on), but I really see something more fueled by retribution
and coping.  In an interview with the Quietus, Damon McMahon
describes the process of his 2011 release, Through Donkey Jaw, as “[his]
way of finding of catharsis.”  “Foolish Person” really feels like it comes
from that same scope.

 

Clearly, as this review outlines, Long Slow Dance is a schizophrenic album, at times frustratingly
so. Yet it has its redemptive
elements, so I’m just gonna use this last line to tell you that if you don’t
listen to any other song this year, you need to listen to “Foolish Person.” Do
it right now.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Foolish
Person,” “Presence of Mind” JOHN MITCHELL

 

 

 

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