Play It Strange is their third full-length (and first for In The Red), that finds the fervent self-produced band stepping out of their home recording studio for the first time in their still young career, and into Tim Green's Louder Studios. And boy, does Green clean them up nicely. But Green's impeccable ear for rich tones and textures doesn't deserve all the credit here. Much of the Fresh & Onlys brilliance can be attributed to key songwriter Tim Cohen. While he certainly wears his tender heart on his sleeve (The Fresh and Onlys have been on almost every mixtape I've made in the past year), he rolls those romantic sentiments into expansive guitar hooks and twinkling piano touches that walk off into a distant, cold, dark desert night, leaving you with a head filled with crystal-clear memories and a heart covered in dust.
With summer now a near distant memory, the mellow, mid-period Go-Betweens-sounding opening track, "Summer of Love" sets the autumnal tone that much of Play it Strange possesses, and leads into the the thumping, uplifting lead single, "Waterfalls," and the sun-scorched desperado rollick of "Until The End of Time." They balance propulsive percussion with pre-chorus breakdowns midway through the album on "Be My Hooker" and "Fascinated," and their steady stream of infectious toe-tappers are driven through the second half of the record, mellowly closing out with "I'm a Thief," a rich and tender slow dance.
Whereas their last record, Grey-Eyed Girl, and their 2008 self-titled debut intoned more elements of regret and forces of evil working against them, Play It Strange seems to mark a new chapter for the band, where they can wander and make the most out of what they have, not what they want. Because what they have, a knack for brilliant, flawless songwriting, is something everyone should want.
The Fresh and Onlys - "Waterfall"
Play it Strange is out Tuesday, October 12 on In The Red, and the Fresh and Onlys play November 17 at Doug Fir, supporting Clinic