Tim Cohen’s band The Fresh & Onlys, by 2014, had released three equally eclectic, equally enthralling records that have gained them fans across the musical spectrum. Some fans dig their new-wave blend of pastoral psychedelia, others their raucous garage-rock tendencies. If you’re into both sides of The Fresh & Onlys’ sound, there’s a hell of a trip waiting for you on House Of Spirits. Cohen is joined in the band by also-famous Wymond Miles on guitar, Shayde Sartin on bass and Kyle Gibson on drums.
Sometime in 1983, The Cure‘s Robert Smith had had enough of bleak, maudlin goth rock, and turned his hand to off-kilter, breezy psychedelia firmly rooted in the new-wave palette that he’d helped pioneer five years previously. The resulting album, The Top, is often hated, often ignored by music critics and fans, but you can guarantee that The Fresh & Onlys have heard that album more than their fair share of times. One of the best tracks on House Of Spirits – Animal Of One – is as close to the sound of Smith’s mercurial, oddball record as you’re ever likely to hear outside of the actual record itself. The downbeat vocal delivery, the chiming guitars… hell, even the title of the track itself could be taken from a Smith tune.
In fact, the entire album seems rooted in British rock of yesteryear – from the stoned Spiritualized fuzz of Bells Of Paonia to the brittle post-punk of Hummingbird, there’s good taste aplenty going on in their sound. The guitars are always perfectly treated to fit whichever furrow they’re ploughing at any given time, which indicates that there’s a lot of conscious effort involved in the creation of a ‘perfect sound’. As such, the record seems to catch some of the anything-can-happen excitement of, say, a Thee Oh Sees or Ty Segall release.
But what it does have is melody in spades. The blissed-out trip of Ballerina is packed with shimmering guitars and ghostly vocal lines sure to trap your listening faculties in thrall for at least three minutes. The sprightly rhythm of April Fools makes it stand out immediately – it’s a hummable, noddable number that on first listen seems to be the aural equivalent of a ball of candy floss, but after a few listens the interplay between all the composite musical elements really hits the spot. It’s still sickly sweet, yet just seems to grow more layers with each listen. The bass guitar becomes the lead instrument on Candy, its warm thud becoming the heartbeat of the tune and allowing the strummed guitars and yearning vocals to take centre-stage. Beneath the pop veneer, there’s some castanets, brass and keys filling out the sound.
The opener Home Is Where would have been by far the best tune on Echo & The Bunnymen’s bland new one, such is its controlled post-punk frenzy. The eerily Mac-ish baritone vocal delivery also helps that comparison somewhat – and sharp lead guitar cuts in and out of the fulsome musical backdrop to those throaty vocals. They follow that up with an equally kinetic cut; The Fresh & Onlys released Who Let The Devil as a taster a few months ago, and presented here in the context of the album, it reveals itself to be one of the highlights. Check out that bass sound!
The Fresh & Onlys’ most cohesive record yet, House Of Spirits doesn’t break any new ground or take any unexpected detours, but rather solidifies their position as the foremost new-wave revivalists around. The only problem arises when you measure your interest in their new records against your interest in the source material – in the unlikely instance that you find yourself considering your favourite Cure albums to be The Top, Head On The Door and Wild Mood Swings, get a copy of this immediately. If not, proceed with caution, because The Fresh & Onlys’ relentlessly retro manifesto can be a bit grating if you’re not stoned or the world’s happiest person.