Tim Cohen: Magic Tracks

Cohen's depth as a songwriter is fully affirmed on this mature third full-length.

Tim Cohen

Magic Trick

Label: Captured Tracks
US Release date: 2011-02-15
UK Release date: 2011-03-07

When The Fresh & Only’s, a San Francisco garage pop foursome are brought up, usually something about their furious creative output is mentioned. With three full-lengths and somewhere in the area of a thousand 7-inches and EP’s having been released since 2009, it’s hard to avoid the songwriting prowess (and amidst all this, constant touring as well) that the band displays in spades. One might assume that the band lives together in the studio and rarely gets a moment away. But the members of The Fresh and Only’s are no ordinary musicians.

Consider Tim Cohen, lead singer/guitarist/generally cool-as-a-cucumber guru of the band. 2010’s Laugh Tracks, his second solo release, was a largely relaxed take on the school of psychedelics that The Fresh and Only’s are old pros at. Yes, you read that correctly. Since 2009, throughout the frantic frenzy that is his band, Cohen has released three full-lengths, including Magic Trick, his latest. When the rest of the world wakes up, makes a cup of coffee and tries to wrap their head around the day, it’s likely that Cohen has already written three jammy and effervescent tracks, each one different from the last.

Therein lies the wonder not only of Cohen’s output, but his songwriting ability. Some bands get into a creative groove and can proliferate hundreds of tracks of the same vein. But as with every Fresh and Only’s release, there is a steady progression within Cohen’s solo work that showcases his depth as a songwriter and his ability to mature not only in person but on record as well. Whereas Laugh Tracks contained the hazy sonic vibe of a Sunday morning, Magic Trick may be Cohen’s attempt to put his own spin on Monday mornings. Cohen’s pipes sound focused but subtle and his lyrics concise. And while there is a healthy variety within the sonic language Cohen speaks on Magic Trick, there is a marked maturity present from his past releases. No two Fresh and Only’s releases sound alike, and Cohen has managed to channel that kind of sonic diversity into his solo work. His mantra is seemingly similar to that of Italian cooking: keep things simple and let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.

Sure, there are hints of the jangly garage that his band mates struck gold with on Play It Strange, most notably on the shuffling opener “I Am Never Going To Die” and within the crooning, sage-like beauty of “Hey Little One”. However it is the manner of which he explores other genres not with caution, but respect as to not go overboard that may be what remains most memorable about Magic Trick. Consider the mature bohemian chamber-pop burn of “Sweetheart,” (“Do I have a broken heart?/Well maybe I have a good heart/maybe I need a sweeatheart/and maybe I need to open my heart”) the spooky, folk leanings of “Legerdemain” and the bedroom electronics of “New House In Heaven”, which all stand out with a reserved elegance you might not expect from Cohen.

Normally, when a group of musicians write, record and release so much music within a short amount of time, the law of averages would insist that there would be a few duds within the collection. On Magic Trick however, Tim Cohen is proving to himself to be one of America’s underrated songwriters. And that may be his grand magic trick; Cohen is making no great leaps for attention. His progression and evolution as a songwriter is a natural one. And he reminds us of his genuine and always pragmatic intentions on “The Flower”. If he can keep up the creative streak he’s currently on, the world may soon be hearing his name a lot more often.

“Got to give me one more chance/to show the world/that all of my intentions are pure”.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.