New To Us – Chris Cohen


Chris Cohen is a solo artist in his own right, as well as previous being part of  The Curtains, Cryptacize, Deerhoof, Natural Dreamers, and Park Detail’s Band. He has also toured as a member of White Magic, Cass McCombs, Haunted Graffiti and Danielson. So basically he’s a very busy man. His latest album, As If Apart seems to have been pretty much entirely Chris’ own doing, apart from a couple of tracks where Zach Phillips contributes some lyrical clout.

For the most part the music Chris Cohen makes sounds like a polished version of classic bedroom-pop. It exists in a dreamy, melodic haze; layers of synths buzz gently, drums flutter with light-jazzy fills, and guitars are heavily affected, but laced with a certain kind of laid-back Los Angeles warmth. As If Apart is a record infused with a sort of lazy melancholy, not the all encompassing sadness of other, lesser records, but a gentle aching.

Although his debut album was recorded following a move to Vermont, for the follow up Chris has returned to his home city of Los Angeles. Los Angeles is the biggest city in California, the second biggest in the United States and the fourteenth biggest in the world. Officially founded in 1781 by Spanish settlers, following the Mexican War of Independence in 1821 the city became part of Mexico, only coming under the rule of the US when it was bought back in 1848 following the end of Mexican-American war. Los Angeles has been billed the cultural capital of the world, with one in six residence working in the creative industries, and it is suggested that there are more creative workers there than in any other city at any point in history. Los Angeles has a rich musical history a vibrant jazz scene sprung up in the 1920’s producing artists like Charles Mingus and Buddy Colette. In the 1960’s the Sunset Strip scene gave the world the likes of Buffalo Springfield, The Doors and The Byrds, whilst in more recent years artists like Beck, Local Natives and Eels have called the city home.

Chris Cohen first started playing music back in 1978, when at the tender age of three he first experimented on a drum kit. Ever since then he has been a contributor, songwriter and general all round musician, however it was only in 2012 that the first record under his own name came out, in the shape of his debut solo album, Overgrown Paths. The follow up to that record, As If Apart, came out last week via Captured Tracks.

Listening to As If Apart on a particularly warm, but rainy morning, the music of Chris Cohen suddenly clicked. It suited that mood perfectly, partly nostalgic, but also laced with a certain Summer-like haze, this wasn’t the depth of winter, this was the sleepy warm sound of Summer, but without the sun-drenched excess. It’s neither crushed nor hopeful; it’s just the sound of getting on with life, even if nostalgia keeps trying to drag you back.

The albums opening track, Torrey Pine, is perhaps the perfect introduction to Chris’ music. It open’s with a buzz of synths, a rush of lightly jazzy drums and pulsing, unusually rapid bass-line. His voice enters, mellow, lethargic, not obviously melancholic. The whole thing is just a beautiful sound, a wash of warm, hazy atmospherics. Lyrically it doesn’t seek to give away too much, he plays his cards close to his chest, and seems more interested in the mood his words can create than what they have to say.

It’s a template that repeats throughout As If Apart, subtly shifting instrumentation and mood, but rarely breaking out of a certain, beautiful lethargy. The joys here are all in the subtle details; the way the drums in Memory scuttle by on a light, loose marching rhythm, the way the slow paced vocal contrasts with the rapid drums on the title track,  the slight South-Asian twang to the nursery-rhyme like waltz of Needle & Thread. Even, No Plan, a forty-six second instrumental, seems to have been placed knowingly and with care, its beautiful rich piano runs, are subtle, but undeniably beautiful.

Chris Cohen has described this record as, not how pop music should have turned out, but how it did turn out, alongside it’s other trajectory. This kind of pop-music might not rule the charts, but it’s laced with the history of pop music, from the Simon & Garfunkel like intro of Drink From A Silver Cup, through to the Pink Floyd like-proggy guitars and occasional break outs into smooth, Laurel Canyon-like harmony pop. It’s pop music, but not as the world has come to know it, and it’s all the better for it.

Why Not?
Everything about this record, be it the lyrics, the melodies or the instrumental atmospherics, is delivered with a sort of quiet drifting feeling, it’s not music that grabs you by the lapels and shakes you awake. That said if you like your music as a subtle wash, of quietly fascinating ideas, and hazily beautiful sonic  exploration, then you’ve come to the right record.

As If Apart is out now via Captured Tracks. Chris Cohen plays End Of The Road festival, as well as dates in the US, click HERE for details.

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