Music Reviews
Long Slow Dance

The Fresh & Onlys Long Slow Dance

(Mexican Summer) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

This might sound a little strange, but back when I first heard that the new album by San Francisco garage rockers The Fresh & Onlys was going to be titled Long Slow Dance, I almost immediately took notice to its cryptic acronym (LSD, anyone) and figured that it must be a reference to the 60’s favored hallucinogen. It initially seemed like this would be indeed plausible, as The Fresh & Onlys, while not necessarily a stoner band per say, have spent much of their career paying homage to the 60’s. Their last album in particular, 2010’s excellent Play It Strange, was a scorching and wildly fun garage rock survey that sonically and spiritually took inspiration from 60’s surf rock, The Animals, and The Byrds, yet effectively utilized these influences to create a collection of brawny yet memorable pop tracks that further proved the might of the Bay Area’s monster garage rock scene.

Upon listening to Long Slow Dance, however, I realized that I could not be more wrong with my assessment. Not only is this the group's most cleaned up and straight forward album, it also happens to leave behind many of the 60’s rock influences that the group has been known for until this point, instead leaning more towards romantic ballads of the 1980’s. The group’s knack for irresistible pop hooks is still as intact as ever, but this time around they’ve scrubbed away nearly all traces of grittiness and lo-fi edge from their sound in favor for a much more buttoned up, straight-laced affair that would easily prefer a night of cuddling over rocking out.  Unfortunately, this refined take on their sound ends up hurting the band more in the end than it helps. While many of the songs on Long Slow Dance make for some pretty solid pop songs, the experience as a whole ultimately feels neutered, making this one of the more sappy albums The Fresh & Onlys have recorded yet, as it feels more suited to be played during a high school prom rather than the raucous rock venues of San Francisco.

Most likely the first thing you will notice about The Fresh & Onlys upon listening to their new album is just how mushy these guys have gotten since their last release. Through the albums 12 tracks, the group packs so much romantic and emotional imagery into nearly every track that you’d think the album came with flowers, chocolates, and a pack of breath mints. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to express these kinds of sentiments when done authentically, but here it’s done so unabashedly that it tends to rank pretty high on the sappiness scale, with songs like Long Slow Dance openly dreaming of the “perfect romance” and No Regard trying to “wonder why fools fall in love” long after Frankie Lymon did decades ago. Some songs, like the solid Presence of Mind, are a bit less blatant than these examples, but on the whole the lyrics of Long Slow Dance make the album feel like that friend who just started dating/broke up with their girlfriend and now won’t shut up about it. After a while, you’re dying to talk about something else.

This focus on romance and courtship come through not just through the albums lyrics, but through the overall sound of the album in general, as the albums production and instrumentation easily makes Long Slow Dance the prettiest and gentlest of all Fresh & Only releases. While previous efforts presented the group as sweaty garage rockers with a taste for 60’s melodies and textures, the brighter production, shimmering acoustic guitars, and sunny synthesizers try to place the group in more of a 1980’s pop setting, with songs like Fire Alarm and the Billy Idol inspired Euphoria sounding straight from the MTV generation. The element that really clinches this, however, is Tim Cohen’s vocal approach, which sits at an emotionally pained crossroads between Morrissey and David Gahan (though never equaling  either) that adds a bit more than enough 80’s romanticism to each and every track. The group continues to use their well-executed surf rock-meets-the good, the bad, and the ugly guitar leads on occasion to further beef up even their most light-hearted tracks, but this time around they only seem to be playing second fiddle to the more sensitive sounds the group seems to be favoring on this release.

Having an improvement in production quality can have its advantages for a group like The Fresh & Onlys, as it helps each track stand more independently from one another once all of the lo-fi muck is scraped off. This is where Long Slow Dance excels furthest, as the songs included feel more varied from one another than on previous releases. This is not to say that that they’ve never tried this before, but the improved clarity helps give tracks much more of their own identity in whichever style of music they’re trying to reach back to, with the flower pop of Presence of Mind, mariachi styled balladry of Executioners Song, and raging power pop of Yes Or No sounding more refined than ever. However, this increased clarity still feels lacking in comparison to the raw garage-rock styling of previous albums like Play It Strange. Though songs like Take Back the Night and the expansive Foolish Person clearly aim to preserve this rough-edged rock spirit, they ultimately still feel a step behind from such classics as Waterfall and Tropical Island Suite from their previous album.

In 20 Days and 20 Nights, the albums opener, bandleader Tim Cohen admits to having “something so heavy in [his] heart” that he has to try and let out before the waterworks start. It’s with this mission statement that we get a full understanding of what Long Slow Dance expects out of its listeners: to be an unfortunate bystander to act as The Fresh & Onlys handkerchief as they cry on your shoulder and bombard you with their sappiest romantic fantasies. Long Slow Dance might be a strong garage pop album with some incredibly catchy songs, but it could definitely be grounded from its chick flick sensibilities.