In case you couldn’t guess it from the album’s title, San Francisco’s Fresh and Onlys have gone back in time to release the Early Years Anthology, twelve tracks that were cut from their 2008, self-titled debut LP. The band is pretty prolific in their songwriting, releasing at least an album per year since that debut, and it turns out that they could have released so much more. As John Dwyer, founder of the Castle Face label, wrote of this period in the band’s history, “Songs were hanging off the branches heavy, plump and threatening to rot on the vine if they weren’t polished and put to tape.” They canned and preserved those fruits for our consumption now, it seems. While some outfits could risk getting repetitive as they create large amounts of music, songwriters Tim Cohen and Shayde Sartin managed to experiment enough to keep the tracks on this garage rock album fresh but cohesive.
Despite being mainly garage rock, these early songs have taken influence and been shaped by various other genres. “Summer Wheels” sounds like the Cure, but frantic with a little surf sound. Oh, and with some harmonica and electric organ thrown in. Wrap your head around that; it may not make a lot of sense if you haven’t yet taken a listen to it below, but it’s fitting. Imagine the Cure if they were over-caffeinated to the point of jittering. “Don’t Look Down” continues the surf sound. “I’m a Puppet” and “Bomb Wombs” harken back to ’50s pop, mainly thanks to the backing vocals (call-and-response on “Puppet,” harmonies on “Wombs.”) “Double-Sided Woman” is more laid back than the rest of the album, with Jack Johnson-style guitar, only distorted. “Deviants Within” is experimental with seemingly unrelated instrumental arrangements mixing together until it sounds like you’ve taken enough drugs to make the walls melt around you. Still, all of these tracks have just enough distortion and guitar to unify them under the garage rock label.
The lyrics on some of the songs could be dissected in a poetry class. “Double-Sided Woman” has lots to discuss as he describes being in love with a woman’s identical twin, who is likely just another side to his one lady. Though “Pile of Bones” sounds kind of like a children’s sing-a-long, the lyrics are actually about a pile of bones in a meadow and dreaming of naked bodies. There’s a wish to grow old without growing up on “Ooh I Got Got,” which (fittingly) sounds like baby-talk when the title is repeated quickly during the chorus. “Sunglasses” is about covering up with a beard, mustache, and sunglasses but still feeling exposed since no one else looks like him. So much to analyze. “I’m a Puppet” has just a few lines that get repeated, but it fit with the pop sound for which they’re going. Then there’s the stuff I can’t quite make out: if I hadn’t known the title, I would have thought “Seven Directions” was about severed erections. It’s mixed in such a way that the long, twangy guitar chords take precedence over the fuzzy vocals. Eventually, it sounds like the Fraggles are singing back-up, and even their non-words are clearer than the actual lyrics.
Considering these songs were cut from a debut album, it’s fairly impressive: it’s stronger than many bands’ actual debut albums. It took a while to grow on me; at first it sounded messy, but with repeated listens, it seemed like the distortion, prominent harmonica, and the seemingly unrelated organ melodies made more sense.