There are a few album covers in the music collection I’ve been amassing for the last 35 years or so that are photographs taken from inside a home looking toward a window or two. There is something so appealing and intimate about this. From the get go, one feels invited and welcomed. As I listen to Withdraw for the 400th time this week, I find myself getting lost in the cover photo. I feel like I’m visiting an old friend, sitting in a comfy chair looking out the windows towards the setting sun. I’m admiring how the plants’ leaves turn toward the light and wish I could absorb it’s nurturing power in the same way.
Withdraw is the second album from UK four piece Fresh, and once again, I am catching up with another band (debut album ordered!). Not only is this album as inviting as the cover suggests, with its sharp, short, bright pop songs, but songwriter Kathryn Woods’ lyrics are as intimate and personal as a conversation with your best friend. It all feels very real and powerful. A lot of bands have the upbeat/happy albums, or more accurately, happy and or sad songs, or there’s the very serious depressing songs that sound upbeat and joyful, but Fresh cram all of these things into two minute songs without sacrificing melodicism. The clearest example of this is the exciting and momentous sounding “Nervous Energy,” where the first verse feels triumphant (“giving hi-fives out of a moving van / trying to soak up every moment I can”), but then we quickly learn in the second verse that maybe this move is not so welcome (“wishing things we back to what they were / feeling suicidal nobody cares”), and that something is deeply wrong. There is a sense of uncomfortable transition and of low self-esteem throughout this brief album, along with a strong determination to overcome these issues that make Fresh defiant and powerful, instead of pitiful. A move is again tackled in the endlessly catchy “Going to Brighton,” but this time Woods tackles the notion with a positive tenacity (“I feel a fire inside me” / “I refuse to be let down”). On “In Over My Head” Woods admits that she’s looking for security, despite the move (“I just wanna feel safe in my own bed / the rest of my life beckons up ahead / I’ve just got to embrace it”). On the other hand, in “New Girl,” Woods is restless and doesn’t want to stay put as her depression sets in (“woke up last night / with tears in my eyes / because I am fundamentally unlovable / packing an overnight bag / wish I could never come back”).
Elsewhere, the beautifully touching acoustic “Nothing” breaks hearts with the repeated refrain “everyday I tell myself that I am nothing,” yet again, Woods fights this with the hope that one day she will tell herself that she is “glowing.” For those of us with that negative self-opinion, this is easier said than done, but you can sense her determination to make it happen which feels incredibly encouraging, as does that lovely soothing trumpet at the end. In the breezy “No Thanks,” we find Kathryn taking a firm stand regarding her resiliency and strength (“I am fire and light / I am fine on my own”), despite her insecurities.
I find this all so damn relatable, because even though I feel a strong sense of doom and gloom weighing me down pretty much all of the time, I find that I can still laugh and find moments of joy and functionality. I’m sure I’m not on my own with this and it is incredibly refreshing to encounter such vibrant music adorning these nakedly honest lyrics. Withdraw is a fun album to crank up the volume out in the summer sunshine, and it can also keep you company with understanding through those moments when you’re having “dark thoughts again.”
I’m tapping into the lyrics here, perhaps too much, because these kids bring the tunes! There is a tangible joy in their performances that infuse these songs with electricity. Myles McCabe’s guitar work is stellar throughout, while the rhythm section of George Phillips (bass) and Daniel Goldberg (drums) are tight. The opening title track feels like a crashing mess – not far removed from flirting’s psychological dramas, while “Willa” begs for frequent repeated listens at high volume, and I can’t get through this without acknowledging the “Summer Nights” (Grease) referencing pop song “Punisher.”
I cannot recommend Withdraw enough! Meanwhile, I will continue listening to the album, as I gaze out the windows on the cover and wait for my copy of the first album to arrive in the mail.
Fresh "Going to Brighton"