REVIEW: The Fresh & Onlys - Long Slow Dance

San Francisco based Fresh & Onlys new album Long Slow Dance is one that sends mixed messages to the listener. One moment you are on a train racing across a desert, the next you find yourself enjoying a beach campfire with surfboards scattered about. Then it’s on to a 60s pop revival worthy of Zooey Deschanel, followed up by a two decade jump to a sound that recalls bands like The Feelies, the DBs or The Connells. And then there’s that burst of Mexican sounding horns and just a hint of Gaslight Anthem.

The point is that all of this stylistic exploration begs the question: When your music pulls from so many sources and reminds you of so much, does that mean you’ve carved out your own niche…or are derivative of them all?

The obvious downside to this stylistic indulgence is that it’s hard to take away an overall impression of who this band is, or what they were going for on this record.. If you’re a fan of any of these styles, you’ll find something to engage with, but will it become your favorite album of 2012? Unlikely, as Fresh & Onlys’ sound like they’re still experimenting stylistically and haven’t found that place that fits them yet, much less you. It’s somewhat surprising, given the clear-eyed vision of their 2010 record Play It Strange, which featured several fantastic tracks, most notably “Waterfall.” Throw Long Slow Dance on at a party, however, and you’ve got some pretty good background music on your hands but will anyone start dancing?

Songs like the “Executioner’s Song” create an atmosphere of Western plains, yet complicate matters with lyrics:  “all across the desert falling down when I was lost my words could not be found, the undertow had made it so, nowhere to go but down” The mixed metaphor of desert and ocean (which is where undertows normally occur) become a pretty string of typically evocative words that fail to paint a cohesive picture as the sonic scape does.

“Foolish person,” the longest cut on the album, sheds a little of the garage pop vibe for a band more like Muse. Or to be more precise, it swaps out the band in the garage, removing the pop and leaving a bit of a jam band.

"Dream Girls" and “Wanna Do Right by You” fall squarely in She & Him territory.  You can easily replace Zooey’s voice for the lead and have slightly more quirky results. And in the end, feel the same way about the song.

There is nothing offensive or jarring about this album; it’s well crafted and endearing, but like that cute person at the coffee shop who answered “12:15” promptly when you asked the time, it may not stick with around long and you might have dug as deeply as you are going to go.  Ultimately Long Slow Dance is like cotton candy: sweet and approachable, but it won't linger for long.