by Ryan Doyle Elward
Much is already at risk as an artist departs from a musical collective to pursue a purely individualistic effort. But considering that first official singular release Cool It is this culmination of these personal endeavors, it was a risk worth taking. Specifically though, two issues often accompany musicians whose past record shows extensive partnerships and collaborations, especially those that include studio work spanning a decade and a half, as has that of Sam Cohen. With knowledge of his experience and background as a multi-instrumentalist, it is fair to expect these areas of instrumentation would be of substantial skill and quality. Consequently, it is in precisely this sort of hyper-attention to the individual components that would potentially diminish the overall cohesiveness of the album and songs themselves. What’s more, it would be unsurprising to find a certain dryness, which relates as an over exemplification of instruments attached to far too much theory and showing of complexities in all the wrong ways. Or, be perceived as too much of a musicians take on music as a way to showcase skill rather than make palatable music, where unfortunately skill does not directly correspond to good music. Though none of these stick, and no such abusive representation of ability is present. Instead a well rounded, mature approach to all various considerations and aspects arrive in just the right amount, and are given appropriate focus. In fact, that said, since Cohen actually played nearly all the instruments himself, it is next to marvelous that there is such a diverse view of the whole, and feels like it could have been shaped by several musicians and their perspectives. Cool It shows no difficulty in smoothly delivering numbers that are nothing less than tasteful and attachable.
Now, the second issue pertains to trouble in regard to past accomplishments with material written for or with others, now overshadowing the project at hand where musicians cannot escape from the grasp of influence. Stylistic properties from work that he has contributed toward previously latches on here as well, preventing any forward motion, and as a result, often nothing especially unique is done afterward. And in truth there are myriad influences laced rather conspicuously into this album, although in more subtle ways than bold, and none are affairs he remotely participated on in any manner. Actually, being as they are dated to an era gone by, they serve as a sort of reanimation for some rather sacred and iconic music. From the distorted bite from “Ohio” of Neil Young in “Kepler 62” or the drifting, heavy chords from “Down by the River” in “Don’t Shoot the Messenger.” With Bob Dylan inflection and similar quirky, nonchalant storytelling habits in “Pretty Lights” as well as “The Garden.” Even a direct line can be drawn between songs such as “Last Dream” and “A Farewell to Arms,” and the album Loaded of The Velvet Underground.
Ultimately, despite noting how these influences reside comfortably within Cool It, Sam Cohen wraps these features into an album that is entirely his own. As fashionable and selling as these additions make his work, the rest that fills the gaps between is not quite as safe, and pleasantly so, not quite a conventional psych album either. It is at times splendidly cool, adrift and floating. Others it is aflame and full of sly groove, and still yet others equally as groovy, but more so aligned with the sedative powers of R&B. Undeniably Sam Cohen, and inarguably a solid release for which we hope to receive more like in the future.