The Fresh & Onlys - "Invisible Forces" (Grey-Eyed Girls)
The Fresh & Onlys are the latest force to adopt the release first, refine later strategy so effectively deployed by Kurt Vile and fellow San Franciscans Thee Oh Sees. Grey-Eyed Girls is meant to serve as a bridge between the band’s rough-edged debut on Castle Face and their big pro-studio full-length due up on In the Red later this year. That span is a long one, covering every era and every sound that’s ever believed in the power of The Hook. These songs are straightforward, to the point, and fully endowed with the feelings engendered by decades of guitar rock. They’re powerful examples of not just the songwriting prowess of Tim Cohen and Shayde Sartin, but of a fundamental understanding for how a good guitar line is an elemental force.
Sometimes it’s hard to know which line to follow. Lead, rhythm, and bass guitar all fight for attention on the title track, but never distract from each other. Cohen steps between the raindrops and connects all the points without ever shooting straight. Songs like “What Goes in Circles” sound effortless. They’ve clearly been worked over, but without feeling belabored. The band knows when work becomes counterproductive, and that messing with a promising thing will snuff it out. Take “Clowns (Took My Baby Away),” the weakest song on the record. It riffs hard, but without any end to the sentence. A lesser band would try to “fix” it. Cohen and Sartin instead leave it for what it is: an unfinished idea with a party-starting arpeggio that’s more than worth our time.
This commitment to the song and frankness about quality has always exuded charm. Only now it’s becoming more refined. Comparisons to Bob Pollard are not without merit, both in terms of volume and quality of songs. And whereas the unsung garage heroes of the 1960s and ’70s were name-checked the most on earlier releases, more modern post-punk and indie influences have started to shine through. “No Second Guessing” takes on the tone of the Magnetic Fields while “What’s His Shadow Still Doing Here” might be the best Stephen Merritt song that he never wrote. Meanwhile the Wipers get a nod on the darker storm fronts of “Invisible Forces” and the big closing act in “The Delusion of Man.”
This expansion in flavor while remaining true to their simple hook-driven vibe keeps the band true to their name. It’s not enough to refer to the Fresh & Onlys simply in the context of psych-revivalism or the fuzzy nature of the current Woodsist roster. Grey-Eyed Girls harvests the best guitar melodies, whether it’s groovin’ or twee, punky or swampy, hippied out or just straight rock ‘n roll. Sartin has gone on the record to say “We’re not trying to hide melodies or do the blown-out thing…I don’t want to ever cater to what’s popular.” Fair enough. But it’s that ability to recognize what makes something a hit and then use it for their own good that puts this batch of songs years ahead of the rest. The future students of students of history should take note.