Since the first The Fresh & Onlys album came out in 2008, the San Francisco psych-rock band has stayed busy, releasing three LPs, two EPS, and scattered singles and compilation tracks—and that’s not even counting the dozen or so solo albums and side projects by frontman Tim Cohen, guitarist Wymond Miles, and bassist Shayde Sartin. But make no mistake: The Fresh & Onlys aren’t an afterthought, nor are their records tossed-off. The band’s self-titled debut was crusty lo-fi garage, but just four years later, on their fourth album, Long Slow Dance, The Fresh & Onlys sound like an accomplished, big-time rock band, recording complexly constructed, deftly arranged, impressively hooky songs. There’s a sense of permanence to Long Slow Dance. This isn’t a group of guys just goofing around; they mean this record to last.
Long Slow Dance could use a touch more of The Fresh & Onlys of three or four years ago: the band that ripped through weird, ragged songs like “Dude’s Got A Tender Heart” and “Clowns (Took My Baby Away).” The new album is more serious, with a sound that comes off overworked at times. Over their past few releases, The Fresh & Onlys have been building out from their original raw style, adding the occasional synthesizer or touch of country-folk twang. Now, on Long Slow Dance, there are songs, like the xylophone-aided “Dream Girls,” that sound like ’60s psychedelia as filtered through the spacey post-punk of Echo & The Bunnymen and Psychedelic Furs; and “Presence Of Mind,” which resembles the genteel sunshine-pop-by-proxy of current indie band The Ladybug Transistor. The Fresh & Onlys have gained some depth, but lost some oomph.
But that’s nitpicking, really, because there’s not a song on Long Slow Dance that’s not winning in its way. (“Dream Girls” and “Presence Of Mind” in fact are two of the album’s best tracks.) With Miles providing his alternately elegant and slippery guitar leads, Sartin and drummer Kyle Gibson keeping a tight, chugging rhythm, and Cohen crooning memorably offbeat lines like, “You be the purest of wine and I’ll be the dirty cup,” Long Slow Dance has something new and ear-catching happening every few seconds. And it’s not like the album doesn’t rock. “No Regard” is richly melodic, but also pops brightly; “Euphoria” recaptures some of the roar of The Fresh & Onlys’ early records; and “Foolish Person” starts out in the moody mode of ’80s San Francisco new-wave act Translator, then blasts into a raging dual-guitar coda. So there’s still some muscle here; it’s just not as frequent as the moments when Cohen and company sing about how “the future is bright,” shooting for beauty.