Chris Cohen is a guy that has offered up his musical skills to many over the last 15 years or so. Deerhoof, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and Cass McCombs are just a few of the many musical worlds Cohen has delved in over the years. But not until his Captured Tracks debut, Overgrown Path in 2012, have we truly heard and seen how good this guy is. That album felt like a time capsule to some imaginary time in the late-60s/early-70s where Chris Cohen possibly rubbed shoulders with Ray Davies, Leonard Cohen, The Walker Bros, and the Zombies. His style is melody-driven but with quirky twists and turns; jazzy drums and off-kilter guitar mix it up with Bill Evans-like piano structure Cohen’s whispered, monotone vocals. It’s as if every song Cohen is going to start singing The Kinks’ “End Of The Season”.
Chris Cohen’s new album As If Apart is a sublime, melancholy collection of fractured pop songs about hearts breaking and times changing. It showcases Cohen’s ability to build an entire universe of endless beaches and never ending sunrises that trade the romantic for the tragic and heavy-hearted. It’s a beautiful album that should appeal to anyone who’s ever sat alone late at night and wondered “I wonder what they’re doing now?”
“Torrey Pine” cascades along in the slightly psychedelic and breezy winds of jazzy complexity and self evaluation. Cohen is a hell of a musician. His strength is in rhythm and groove, and both are present in spades on this opening track. There’s a stoned sigh that permeates the track throughout. Title track “As If Apart” opens with a driving beat and dissonant chords before piano comes in and adds an element of Vince Guaraldi to the mix that makes the song float along a bummer buzz. If you’re familiar with guys like Mac Demarco and Alex Calder(fellow Captured Tracks alumni), then you’re aware of that grainy, lo fi-ish quality of their music. Cohen seems to adopt that feel, but unlike those two Canadian cats Cohen knows how to tune his instruments. His musicianship is strong and capable which gives these songs a dated yet timeless quality. Like a master songwriter/musician that got lost in the shuffle of time that was recently discovered in some vault somewhere. “Drink from a Silver Cup” is low key, downbeat sad sack lament. Great harmonies and phased guitar push this song along gently. You may forget about “Memory” once it’s done playing but after you revisit a few times it will reveal its subtle beauty and genius. Ray Davies lives among the spaces between the notes. Jim Noir also comes to mind as this song plays along, his Tower of Love album in-particular. “In A Fable” has the swing and drive of the Zombies “Tell Her No”, but without all the pomp and circumstance. It’s a simply beautiful track with lyrics like “Every afternoon/You set your stuff down on the table/I wonder what you’re up to now/Father isn’t able” and “But the day’s almost over/It’s been a long time/That love’s no longer mine/But it’s still yours/In a fable”. “Sun Has Gone Away” is a beautiful piano-heavy track that would’ve fit just right on Something Else by the Kinks. It also brings to mind Procol Harum’s heartbreaking “A Salty Dog”(if you’re not familiar with that song you need to be.) “Yesterday’s On My Mind” ends the album with an acoustic-driven vibe. An existential sigh. Resolute to move on, no matter how it hurts.
Chris Cohen has made a sweeping, folksy, and fractured break up record. It’s not dour or a downer, though. Instead, it’s just a musical cure for a broken heart. It’s a page out of the Ray Davies songbook, but interpreted by a talented sad sack named Chris Cohen. As If Apart is beautiful musical statement that’s saying “It’s gonna be all right, buddy. But it’s gonna hurt first.”
8.3 out 10