Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Album Review: Withdraw by Fresh (by Robyn Pierce)

London-based indie punks Fresh have just released their second full-length album titled Withdraw via Specialist Subject Records. I discovered Fresh last year in the run up to MPF and loved their self-titled album, so I’ve really been looking forward to hearing Withdraw since it was announced. Fortunately, Fresh also released a 7-inch earlier this year (featuring the fantastic tracks ‘Daytime’ and ‘Nighttime’) so I’ve had other new material to tide me over until I could get my hands on the latest album, but Withdraw is finally here and I can’t wait to dive into it.

The title track introduces the album with a hefty bit of fuzz and a hulking melody. The sound is surprisingly murky, but still quintessentially Fresh with Kathryn Woods’ unmistakable vocals and a recognisable immediacy in both the melody and the lyrics. The album seemingly begins with the withdraw from ‘public’ life that comes with the end of a tour. Woods talks about this in an interview with Ladyfuzz, where she says that she “wrote many of these songs after touring and travelling” and that they’re “about feeling alone and then finding solidarity, trying to love yourself more, and being very sweaty”. At one point in ‘Withdraw’, she wonders “How do I adjust to life after tour?” And the rest of the album jumps in to provide a possible answer to this question, beginning promptly with the jaunty strains of ‘Nervous Energy’. The second track has an upbeat, country feel that captures the restless excitement of a new crush, and builds at various points with some nice background woah woahs.

Coming up after this are two songs that were released as singles ahead of the album, ‘Going To Brighton’ and ‘Willa’. ‘Going To Brighton’ bursts open with an infectious guitar hook and a capering melody that carries you effortlessly through the entire song. There are some more well-placed woahs, together with an awesome solo/breakdown section. ‘Willa’ has a fun syncopated beat and brings back some of the fuzz of the opening track. The title of the song is a tribute to American writer Willa Cather, but the lyrics speak to the freedom and enjoyment of performing on stage. Both songs really showcase Fresh at their best, but the album still has many surprises in store.

‘No Thanks’ is very different to any other Fresh song I’ve heard before. The high-pitched guitar gives the song a whimsical, old-timey feel that I really like, and is perfectly complemented by the shuffling, jazz-y drumming. I can’t help but bop along to this song, and Woods’ delivery of the lines “I am fire and light. I am fine on my own. I am everything and nothing all at once” is superb. The same guitar tone appears in ‘New Girl’, giving it a similarly ‘new’ sound, but it’s the grooving bass and the smooth layering of sounds that really stands out in this song. ‘In Over My Head’ makes use of some driving guitar and a steady drum beat to give the song some head-bopping momentum, while ‘Getting Ready’ utilizes another catchy hook to capture the charged anticipation of looking ahead to a fun (or relaxing) night’s activities (or lack thereof).

The three concluding tracks on the album (I’ll put ‘Reprise’ aside for the moment) are probably my favourite of the lot. ‘Punisher’ begins like a really fun ensemble number from a musical (in fact, towards the end, Woods delivers a few lines from Grease’s ‘Summer Lovin’ that fit in perfectly with the song’s rhythm and mood) and I love its 60s doo-wap vibe, which comes through in the vocal harmonies as well as the swinging beat. ‘Nothing’ and ‘Revenge’ feel like two sides of the same moment when you’re trying to will yourself out of a perpetual cycle of low self-esteem, anxiety, and self-reproach. Although all of Woods’ lyrics spring from a noticeably direct and honest style of songwriting, ‘Nothing’ feels particularly open and raw. This is complimented by the fact that it’s an acoustic track with some affecting horn playing right at the end. ‘Revenge’ begins softly with some delicate guitar picking, swapping the previous refrain of “Everyday I tell myself that I am nothing” with the self-affirming mantra of “I am valued, I am loved”, gradually building until it blooms into a defiant and uplifting chorus. The album could have ended quite nicely here, on the uproarious notes of personal encouragement, but Withdraw closes more softly with the soulful aah ah aahs of ‘Reprise’.

My excitement to hear this album put a lot of pressure on Fresh to deliver, and they’ve fully met my expectations. Once again, Fresh have given us an album that is not just catchy, fun, and engaging but also open, raw, and sincere. A minor criticism might be that this album does not develop some of the punkier elements of the self-titled (I’m thinking specifically of a song like ‘Bible Camp’). Nevertheless, these songs are punchy and energetic, with loads of fantastic hooks, charming melodies, and highly quotable lyrics. In fact, on the topic of quotable lyrics, Fresh also released a gorgeous set of patches (designed by Bloodflower Design) to go along with the album. These feature lines from ‘Going to Brighton’, ‘New Girl’, and ‘Revenge’. I couldn’t pick a favourite, so I just ordered the whole set. They’re an excellent accompaniment to an equally excellent album.

Stream and download Withdraw here: https://freshpunks.bandcamp.com/album/withdraw

Like Fresh here: https://www.facebook.com/freshpunks

This review was written by Robyn Pierce.

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