It takes guts to record a song called “Summer Of Love,” make it sound like it could have been written during the Summer Of Love, and not laugh while doing so. Not only do The Fresh & Onlys accomplish this feat, they open their third full-length, Play It Strange, with the song. But calling “Summer Of Love”—or, indeed, any track off Play—a “statement of intent” would be overlooking the disc’s joyous effortlessness. As wide-eyed and charmingly drugged as hippies once were, the San Francisco outfit has finally strained its psychedelic garage-rock through a sufficient filter: pure, luscious pop. The twangy sweetness of “Summer Of Love” is just the beginning; like The Seeds strung out on bubblegum, Play lays down a thick bed of murk and twang as the layer under its shimmering, pristine jangle. But songs such as the frantic (but no less hazy) “Tropical Island Suite” show that the group also has a kinship with punk revivalists like the late Jay Reatard—that is, until the seven-minute song comes off the rails and drifts off into a reverb-cushioned Shangri-La. Pastiche without a trace of pretension, Play It Strange isn’t just The Fresh & Onlys’ most vigorous album to date, it’s a perfect example of how trying—or even thinking—too hard can be antithetical to crafting punchy, catchy rock.
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