Music

Hannah Cohen's 'Welcome Home' Is a Portrait of an Artist in Transition

Publicity photo: Bella Union via Bandcamp

Hannah Cohen creates a musical space in Welcome Home where an exploration of identity is conducted with intimacy and vulnerability.

Welcome Home
Hannah Cohen

Bella Union

April 2019

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'Home' as a concept can take both abstract and concrete denotations. In terms of the former, home symbolizes a space of safety and contentment. As for the latter, home is a physical space, a marker of permanence and residence. Bandcamp

For singer-songwriter Hannah Cohen, these definitions are also fluid. For the artist, home encapsulates both meanings while symbolizing her shifting lifestyle. In her recent album Welcome Home, released from Bella Union, Cohen explores the new-found confidence and comfort correlated to reveling in a space that cultivates creativity and personal growth. After establishing residence and identity in New York City among the artists and writers, Cohen found the city's speed and intensity draining. It was Cohen's desire for change that nurtured Welcome Home into fruition.

Relocating to Woodstock, New York, certainly gave Cohen a fresh perspective. The opening " This is Your Life" is a gentle and dreamy reflection on her current standpoint. The track begins with the evocative lyrics "This is your life / Don't let it just happen to you / What's your move? / The deal's on the table in clear view". Often resembling a pep-talk, the lyrics effectively capture Cohen's personal growth and the reluctance often connected with starting new emotional phases.

Despite using non-identifying pronouns such as "you", it's obvious Cohen is speaking to herself in the third person: "And I'll tell you what it is / The moment you see it, you want it, take the risk / You're out of your mind and that's alright". Here Cohen taps onto the psychological effect of "I" versus "you" statements. Using "you" instead of "I" when uttering self-affirmations has proven to yield greater results for the individual. Without question, Cohen opens her album with the literal and figurative declaration of change and agency.

In Welcome Home's press release, Cohen explained "a lot of the album is about checking in with reality and taking the wheel, being honest with myself and my intentions. Being transparent as much as possible. They're about exploring why I'm here." With that sentiment in mind, "Holding On" takes an unadulterated approach to understanding herself while "What's This All About" addresses the impact of her location on her self-worth. She's critical of the City's role in her creative process as she ponders "What about this city do you still love? / 'Cause it's making me crazy / I can't get a new job / Gotta make it work / Or we can move to the country".

In "Build Me Up" and "Old Bruiser" she further illustrates the urge to escape even after returning to one's home. When she "asks why /did we make something special just to go and leave it all behind" she poignantly conveys the realization that home is no longer a sanctuary. Her understanding that spaces don't shift along with a person's mentality was the impetus to write and arrange the album with clarity.

"Big House" is the quintessential musical representation of the benefits offered to Cohen from her new home. In only two verses, Cohen adroitly communicates the solitude and vulnerability associated with being "on the edge of reality". The track starts with her crystalline vocals and limited instrumentation forcing the listeners to enter into Cohen's head space and witness her emotional processing. As the instruments pick up, the lyrics are replaced by a soothing humming portraying Cohen's absent minded daydreaming. At first listen, "Big House" is misleadingly simple. Cohen is intentional in doing so as the track's uncomplicated musicality shows how daydreaming is a productive method in visualizing one's future.

There's a warmth and dreamy energy radiating throughout Welcome Home. Unlike her previous endeavors, this album finds Cohen playing the guitar more consistently. Many of the songs were written on an old, nylon-string guitar painted with Hawaiian beach scenes. The instrument's unique timbre creates a pacifying and soothing sound especially apparent in "Dissolving". But for some listeners, the chimera might become beleaguered. Cohen does try to ease the serenity by including riotous guitar licks and a pounding drum-machine. However, it is the pop-dreaminess that defines her signature sound.

Welcome Home is a portrait of an artist amidst transition. As Cohen grapples with physical location, she creates a musical space where an exploration of identity is conducted with intimacy and vulnerability.

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