Given that Chris Cohen has been a part of bands that normally gravitate toward the more intricate side of psychedelia, whether it’s Ariel Pink’s deranged novelty rock or Deerhoof’s whimsical noise, one would assume that he’d follow a similar professional path as a solo artist. However, Cohen’s debut effort, Overgrown Path, did exactly the opposite: there was a focus on prioritizing feeling over technicality, to expose a more somber tone while retaining the vintage warmth of analog technology.
Overgrown Path didn’t necessarily hide its complexity—there’s all sort of embellishments, from lush piano tones and dazed wintry guitars, that gave life to Cohen’s isolated thoughts. In fact, one of that album’s highlights, “Optimist High”, uses natural imagery to strengthen his stoical attitude towards human interaction. Cohen relishes the solitude and doesn’t let it affect his workflow, allowing himself to create in a pace that reflects the ease of a passing day.
As If Apart isn’t that much different than Overgrown, though it lends an additional vivacity that enhances Cohen’s knack for compositional balance. The album’s leading track, “Torrey Pine”, starts pleasant enough, with a breezy, piano-thumping melody, later moving into a chiming, jazzy-inspired progression that builds into a muscular finish. He quickly tempers the mood with the more playful title track, a full-on lounge number with a spirited rhythm section that accentuates its steady piano-driven pulse; it conserves Cohen’s offbeat qualities, though, as it nags one with a muted droning alarm that adds a sensation of discomfort and unease.
Cohen just can’t keep things straight no matter how melodic they sound at first glance, like in “The Lender”, where he surrenders to a Grateful Dead-inspired fusion approach until it breaks free of its loose jam vibe with a discharge of rippling licks. But aside from these more visceral moments, that tranquility that shaped most of Overgrown continues to transform itself in even more enigmatic ways. “Memory”, a kindred companion to Overgrown track “Inside a Seashell”, showcases his strength for arrestingly quiet lullabies with its musing, melancholic undertow. It’s reason enough to believe that if Cohen where to invite too many players to record with him, it would somehow lose that intimate and closely-knit sound.
As for his lyrical approach, there’s a number of nebulous allusions that lurk within Cohen’s innermost numbness. He never really describes things with too much detail, as if he’s too strung out to know any different, which can frustrate those who seek his underlying purpose. Because of this, it’s somtimes better sometimes to just follow him and see where it leads, like on “Needle and Thread”, which presents a carnival-esque waltz with a certain innocence that matches Syd Barrett’s hypnotic delirium. Other times, the message is as clear as day, like in the gorgeous piano solo “Sun Has Gone Away”, in which Cohen describes the obvious with a simplicity that is almost primitive.
In spite of this, Cohen is an infinitely fascinating songwriter who writes mellow psych-pop songs that are often more expressive than his own words. He’s certainly carving out a niche that is very much his own, making for a colorful tapestry of sounds that are as uncanny as they are refined.