Fresh & Onlys: Playing on Prefix

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Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog where writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers this week.

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Music fans are obsessive about making associations between their vinyl (because real fans never turned away from the only true recording medium) and anything else. Nick Hornby has made a living writing about what a  collection — and, more specifically, how it is organized — says about the collector.  The less imaginative will arrange their vinyl alphabetically, but others get more creative. The more adventurous do it according to genre (perhaps daring to put “Stop Making Sense” alongside “Doolittle” and “Damaged”), for example, and the more twee lean on life experience (essentially reducing “Blood on the Tracks” to a self-help manual for getting over being dumped).

But one organization method that’s often overlooked is arranging according to place of origin, which is the best way to go when dealing with a band like San Francisco’s The Fresh & Onlys. The band — which has put out records on John Dwyer’s Castle Face records and on Woodsist — perfectly represents its city of origin. That’s quite a feat, too, given the city’s rich cultural history.

San Francisco launched everyone from the Grateful Dead and Dead Kennedys to Faith No More and Sleep, all while giving us the glory years of Joe Montana and providing the necessary pavement for “Bullitt.”

Accordingly, “Play It Strange,” the Fresh & Onlys’ new album, weaves in and out of San Francisco’s music history. The lead track, “Summer of Love,” is firmly rooted somewhere in the more marketable end of Haight-Ashbury, but the album, much like the neighborhood, progresses somewhere weirder and entirely more interesting. By the time “Fascinated” appears, with its radio-ready guitar hook, listeners are ready to be drawn back from the seven-minute-long “Tropical Island Suite,” and the pseudo-apocalyptic “Waterfall.”  Despite the jangly veneer that covers the middle of the album, there is a sinister undertone that promises a deeper experience for those willing to give “Play It Strange” multiple listens.

The Fresh & Onlys might seem like a band out of time, but it is, in the best sense possible, more accurately a product of its environment.

— Mike Burr

Editor’s Note: Fresh & Onlys will be performing in Los Angeles on Saturday, September 25 as part of the Waved Out fest at the Echoplex with Dungen and more!