Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fresh & Onlys, Secret Show album reviews

Play It Strange
* * * 1/2

The Fresh & Onlys play a form of garage rock that can best be described as urban. Play It Strange, the band’s fifth album in two years, is as scuzzy and gritty as a Tenderloin alley and as impeccably modern as the Embarcadero. The omnipresent whoosh of the cymbals and rhythm guitars recalls the sound of cars speeding down busy thoroughfares in the distance, and the echoing leads evoke images of spacious squares and towering skyscrapers. The album also seems to be geographically structured like the city of San Francisco, starting from the Pacific. The beginning of the album, like the Richmond and Sunset, is pleasant but not terribly interesting. After the eight-minute “Tropical Island Suite,” we are rocketed into downtown--the soundscapes begin to tower like skyscrapers, roar like freeways, and crunch like gravel under boots. This is an album that celebrates San Francisco as a place, not as a cultural hub--but it’s still quintessentially Rebirth and a nice little introduction to Fogtown’s blossoming garage-rock scene.

This City In Lights
* *

Like Sufjan Stevens, Miles Atkins crafts lengthy, introspective folk-pop songs with outrageously long titles and plays them using a tough yet tender guitar style and a whispered voice. The similarities stop there. While Stevens is one of the great pop geniuses of the 21st century, Atkins, the blogger and singer/songwriter who records under the Secret Show moniker, could be a phenomenally talented musician or have no skill whatsoever--it’s impossible to tell. There’s nothing remarkable about his lyrics, his music, his technical ability, or his voice (with the exception of the surprisingly brilliant “The Historical Significance Of Writing One-Sided Self-Justifying Songs About Girls”). Many facets of the album connect Atkins with emo more than anything else, including his vocals and his voluminous song titles. The appeal of Atkins’ debut EP, This City In Lights, is simply that it’s enjoyable to listen to. Why, I have no idea, and you may personally find This City In Lights unbearable. Perhaps it’s due to Atkins’ self-deprecating charm; perhaps he’s cracked some age-old secret to creating music that’s subliminally likable. Atkins is already preparing a second release--perhaps the mystery will reveal itself with time.

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