My relationship with Chris Cohen's music began with ‘Odyssey’, a Cohen-penned track on Deerhoof’s The Runners Four, which remains one of my favourites in their formidable discography. (I was also lucky enough to see Deerhoof live during their Runners Four tour.) That song's gentle, lilting nature, at odds with the majority of Deerhoof's full-throttle garage-rock, struck a chord with me. I sought out his 2012 debut Overgrown Path thanks to Eleanor Friedberger's Baker’s Dozen piece on The Quietus – and I’ve followed Cohen’s output ever since.
A recent in-depth interview with Aquarium Drunkard focused on the influence of Cohen’s parents’ recent divorce on these songs. While there are references to his estranged father in gorgeous singles 'Edit Out' and 'Green Eyes', overall the album feels as much about coming to terms with one's place in the world and how we learn from each generation’s mistakes. What resonates with me most is that sense of longing for connection across time; the sinking feeling that you’ll never quite have the relationship with your family that you hoped for.
Part of the reason the backstory to this album resonates so strongly with me is that I lost my father to cancer in 2016. Although I now live in Australia and he's always lived back in England, I was lucky enough to spend two uninterrupted weeks with him before he became too frail. Even though there was plenty of unsaid stuff hanging between us, I feel like I came to terms with the fact that he wasn’t the man I wanted him to be. That feeling of acceptance, however painful, permeates this deeply empathetic LP.
The atmosphere of the album is typified by gently swaying opener ‘Song They Play’, which sounds like a cousin of As If Apart’s ‘The Mender’. The three lovely singles follow, including the spiralling bass-and-organ-driven groove of 'Sweet William', before folk staple 'House Carpenter' offers a welcome change of pace, its droning arrangement lulling the listener towards the end of side A after the dense harmonic shifts of the first four songs. Side B opens especially elegantly with 'Twice in a Lifetime', and album closer 'No Time To Say Goodbye' is heartbreakingly beautiful, buoyed heavenward by its beatific sax solo.
It's interesting to note that the album was mastered by legendary engineer Bernie Grundman, responsible for such classics as Steely Dan’s Aja. Chris Cohen has a wondrous depth and warmth, deft arrangements, and an intimate feel to Cohen's vocal delivery. Even though Cohen has an enviable melodic sensibility and plays the majority of the instruments with aplomb, there are tantalising glimpses of expansive new directions, such as the ending of 'What Can I Do', where there's a suggestion of a moody coda that's cruelly faded out. And while Cohen's wildly expressive guitar playing provides some searing counterpoint to the relatively serene songs, it would be amazing to hear where his songwriting could venture given further instrumental collaboration. (All of the guest musicians here make notable contributions, especially saxophonist Kasey Knudsen.)
Overall, Chris Cohen is another superb addition to Cohen's discography – and one I'll be revisiting for months to come. It's full of tuneful goodness, counterbalanced by a bittersweet edge, and I'm looking forward to receiving my vinyl in the mail.
[Chris Cohen is out now on Captured Tracks.]