The Fresh & Onlys

Time sneaks up on you in funny ways. It seems like the age in which Fresh & Only constantly had another single, EP or album kicking around the corner was just a moment ago, and then the calendar reminds you it’s been three years since their last release. Now the interim has been stocked with sidepiece sendups from both of the core members, but there’s something to the spark in the room when Tim Cohen and Wymond Miles get together. They bounce ebullience through experience to recapture the immediacy of their early work, then balance it with the sophistication and nuance of their last two records.

Following Long Slow Dance’s heightened pop realty – a dose of literate rock shot through with dashes of new wave sheen, pulsating under the PAR cans in true rock glory – they doused themselves in a shroud of atmosphere for House of Spirits. The cloud shaded in the crevices of their often craggy creations and it tended to sand smooth some of the splinters that stuck hardest with the listener. For the most part, they drop the curtain of gauze for Wolf Lie Down, creating an album that’s neither pop perfection nor ephemeral puzzle. Instead it’s the band working their rawest nerves with a grace that embraces their years behind the microphones and in front of constant expectations.

They hang the album on their strongest single in a very long time, the blistering “Impossible Man,” a song that’s as close to the nerve of indie rock’s promise as you’re likely to get. It’s a huge hook, bigger than they’ve mounted since the Long Slow Dance era, but tracked with the grit of their early one-off singles. Part of me wishes that they’d gone all in on this aesthetic for an album. While I love the philandering aesthete visions that round out the rest of the album – the ghost town growl of “Becomings,” the Sunday slink of “Walking Blues,” and the hallelujah haze of “Qualm of Innocence” – it’s the fire I’m craving. Between the title track and “Impossible Man” there exists a promise of bombast waiting to happen, an explosion muted by good intentions, but muted nonetheless. I want them to loosen the spines of their literate tendencies and just embrace the power line hooks that lie in wait inside them. If it takes another three years, I’ll be here. I’m a patient soul.

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