Chris Cohen Offers Up Relaxed Rock Music with Psychedelic Flourishes
Chris Cohen's self-titled third solo album is as unassuming as it gets, yet it is unequivocally quality work by an extraordinarily skilled artist. Plus there are sax solos.
29 March 2019
Unassuming. Low-stakes, These are usually low key disses on a piece of art. It's like saying, "Don't expect much. It's just some stuff a person made." But, for a specialized few, this is the sweet spot. Think of the chronically obscure director and auteur Joe Swanberg. His films are not blockbusters, they do not impress with effects, and they easily could likely get lost in the mix of louder, more preposterous films. Yet, Swanberg endures through simplicity and just plain proficiency. He's good at what he does, and does not need a massive vehicle to prove that to anyone. Chris Cohen is an artist that currently resides in the same rarified air, and his self-titled third solo album is as unassuming as it gets. It's not going to blow your mind, but it is unequivocally quality work by an extraordinarily skilled artist. Plus there's sax solos.
The funny thing about calling Chris Cohen unassuming or unpretentious is that his history shows quite the opposite. He fronted a mathy psychedelic group called the Curtains in the early 2000s. The Curtains sound like if a 1980s computer joined forces with Ian Williams of Don Caballero and Battles fame, but with Williams having a bad day, banging on his guitar like he's mad. They're pretentious, not that there's anything wrong with that. Cohen then joined forces with Deerhoof for their album Apple 'O, and if you know anything about Deerhoof, you know that they are not background music. It's music to play at Thanksgiving if you want to anger your grandparents. It's loud, complicated, and full of left turns. All that makes it so interesting that when Cohen went solo, his albums were chill as can be.
His self-titled third album continues what the first two started: relaxed rock music with psychedelic flourishes. "Edit Out" rides on a beat and rhythm section worthy of yacht rock, but never leans into the schmaltz of all that, instead staying centered on the tranquil mood, perfectly accented by unfussy sax solo refrains. The whole song is truly a sigh of contentment. The biggest single of the bunch, "Green Eyes" is a staple 1960s psychedelic song, replete with Mitch Mitchell-like drum fills, obtuse lyrics, and a spindly guitar lead. Later, Cohen interprets a classic Scottish folk song, "House Carpenter" and adds little outside of a little phased guitar. "Heavy Weather Sailing" might be the poppiest song here, but once again it does not try to impress. It's just a bouncy beat interlocking with simple guitar and simple vocal melodies. Like the rest of the album, it's pleasant.
It all comes down to a sax solo. The final track, "No Time to Say Goodbye", is another pleasant track filled with locked in rhythms and beautiful guitar parts. Yet, it hits a new level with the saxophone refrains. Any contemporary ears will have a hard time not labeling a sax solo as corny. It's just not present here. Cohen has created a world where a raw, unaffected sax solo is once again powerful in indie music. It's about time.