Douglas Martin’s Dirty Shoes: The Wonder Years of the Fresh & Onlys

An Early Years Anthology to the Fresh & Only's, the best SF band still standing.
By    September 16, 2015


Douglas Martin never wore flowers in his hair.

It’s like San Francisco’s been soft ever since Google came through and crushed the buildings. Ty Segall moved to Los Angeles. So did John Dwyer. Ripley Johnson moved to Colorado and then to Portland. Most of the really great Bay Area garage-rock-leaning bands you hear about nowadays are from Oakland (shout out to Shannon and the Clams and Nobunny). As far as I know, The Fresh & Onlys are still holding San Fran down, but with last year’s House of Spirits continuing in the polished, lethargic footsteps of the band’s latter work, it’s not a stretch to long for the jolt of energy their songs used to provide.

Who knows why the band decided to release Early Years Anthology. Maybe they were feeling nostalgic about their salad days, perhaps there were just too many great tunes for them to leave on the cutting room floor with a clear conscience. It was more than likely an even split between those speculative answers. What is clear is this: Between their self-titled album, Grey-Eyed Girls, and the August in My Mind EP, frontman Tim Cohen, bassist Shayde Sartin, guitarist Wymond Miles, and whichever drummer cycled into these sessions released so much good music at such an prolific clip that it’s baffling to think about their legend-making initial run even a half-decade later. Which makes the idea of there being twelve more songs as good as anything on the debut album they were cut from more insane.

Cohen’s songwriting is as lovelorn and emotionally complex as anything in his catalog (which includes no fewer than three full-length albums, and those are only the ones he recorded under his own name). “Double Sided Woman” finds him in the throes of a lady’s twin sister who wears said lady’s clothes, crooning, “I know you have the vision / But she has a way with words.” In song, he’s a hopeless romantic; he can’t seem to hide the heart on his sleeve no matter how many leather jackets he puts on, he holds his tongue in his cheek because he knows he can keep a secret that way.

But of course, as it has always been with every band in existence, the best Fresh & Only songs happen when all its moving parts congeal together. Check out “Deviants Within,” where a lockstep beat and bass notes popping up on the fretboard like whack-a-moles set themselves up for an obscenely fuzzy, skyward guitar riff and reverbed vocals, where everything is mixed into soup. After two false starts, “Ooh I Got Got” turns into a punchy tune with an addictively simple chorus. “Sunglasses” is good enough to be the best song on any Fresh & Onlys release, a typically sunny number with a rippling guitar riff and bright organs built for Californian summer driving.

When San Francisco’s vaunted garage-rock scene was at its highest point of influence, it always seemed as though, even though they were just as prolific as any of their peers, the Fresh & Onlys were the least artistically ambitious out of the city’s marquee groups. Their songs didn’t contain the world-beating charisma and sometimes maniacal id of Ty Segall, or the arty, you-should-be-on-drugs-when-you-listen-to-this veneer of Thee Oh Sees. The Fresh & Onlys’ thing was they were the band with meticulously well-crafted songs, and many (like, a whole fucking lot) of them. Early Years Anthology goes a long way to prove there are probably many more than we think, taking up shelf space or littering some makeshift studio floor, waiting to be unearthed.

Stream: Fresh & Onlys – The Early Years

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