Release Date: April 28 Our Rating: 5/5 Spec Recs: “Pretty Lights,” “Unconditional Love,” “Last Dream” In one word: Psychedelic
Former member of Apollo Sunshine and Yellowbirds, Sam Cohensets out on his sweeping solo project this year. Guitarist, songwriter, producer, and animator, Cohen spent the last decade touring and making records treading the tenuous boundaries between the rough-hewn and the psychedelic.
Cohen plays and recorded everything on Cool It himself (save a few guest appearances from his former Yellowbirds compatriots), largely in a week-long flurry in upstate New York. One creative gesture, captured with a lifetime’s worth of accumulated gear. Interestingly, all of the record’s lead synth hooks are performed on heavily processed guitars, a technique that saturates every mix with the feel of Cohen’s expansive and particular guitar virtuosity.
Fans of Tame Impala, Bob Dylan, and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes will dig this album front to back.
1. “Let the Mountain Come to You” The album starts with a guitar crescendo and leads into an effects-heavy jam. Guitars are coming at you from every direction with synth effects and fuzziness. Cohen chants “Let it come to you” as each snare hit drives the guitars forward one more step to its atmospheric melodies in the end.
2. “Pretty Lights” “Waiting for the pretty lights / Waiting for the city lights to go down / I tried to make peace / I’ve had luck in love there in darkness” begins the song as a slow, melancholic composition decorates Cohen’s voice. At 1:15 the synth-based guitars and orchestral-influenced guitar tones drape behind a twangy poignant melody. The drums throughout the song resemble the drum fills of Tame Impala, which leads me to believe they were a strong influence in the compositional writing of this whole album. The song sets into a slow, shoegaze ballad with heavy guitar tones at 3:41. The song takes a turn at 4:19 when Cohen is joined by effects-heavy harmonies behind his pure-voiced melody.
3. “The Garden” After the first 15 minutes, I feel that “I think I’ve heard this song before” and it’s then that I realize the melody played at 12 seconds is similar to the melody played throughout 10CC’s “I’m Mandy, Fly Me” (a song I’m very familiar with, given my name.) This single-worthy song contains the vocal technique of Bob Dylan slurring off the end of his phrases mixed with the expressionism of The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel.
4. “Unconditional Love” I’m already a fan of the song with the first snare hit. I am a huge believer in unconditional love, as it’s one of my favorite ideologies that I got a tattoo of it. The lyrics jump out at me: “Will I always feel this way? / Is this gonna last forever? / Is this what they call unconditional love? / Did I always feel this way? / Or did I teach myself to love you? / When you stand beside me, it feels like there’s a door shimmering the feeling you don’t love me anymore.” It’s perfect song to start out cuddling, then move into gently making love. The song has a similar vibe as Sharon Van Etten’s “Nothing Will Change”: his melody resembles hers, the lyrical content resembles someone who loves someone without the confirmation of reciprocated feelings, and the wavy guitar tones that carry the song the whole way through.
5. “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” A dismal acoustic guitar begins the tune with Bob Dylan-esque songwriting and sound. The first verse claims: “What I did was not quite up to me / Who I choose is not a choice / I believe there’s much above me / I don’t claim to hear your voice.” The song lacks excitement until 1:49 when harmonies join Cohen and drums pick up the tune, and before you know it, the song is over.
6. “Last Dream” From the very first second, this tune is already a pick-me-up from the last tune. The drums drive the song with snap-back snare hits. The “organ” hits on the quarter notes punch as the drums jam out at 1:15 then return to their chugging nature. It’s perfect song to gear up for summer, so be sure to add it to whatever summer playlists and road trip mixes you’re designing now.
7. “Kepler 62” The first hit of this song sends you into a psychedelic spiral. The harmonies and echoes enhance the melody and the winding guitar tones take you down the rabbit hole, so to speak. The time changes in the instrumental breakdown prove impressive with the drums switching from fills to a 6/4-jazzy turnaround.
8. “A Farewell to Arms” The drums in this tune resemble the drum emphasis in the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” The slide guitar at 1:18 give the song a more tropical theme as it sets sail for psychedelic seas. Again, remnants of 10CC and Tame Impala reflect in the song as it flows from one section to the next, seamlessly.
9. “Midnight Conqueror” The album takes a turn from its 1960’s and 1970’s inspired sounds to now a 1980’s pop-inspired sound. The beginning sounds like Supertramp is going to start singing “The Logical Song.” The loops keep you spiraling through its wave of melodies and harmonies until Cohen starts singing at 1:04 where we are greeted with harmonious vocals.The song bumps up at 1:38 to the drums joining the psychedelic journey. The sweeping guitar duo at 1:56 adds intensity to the song and keeps it moving throughout the piece. Again, I can’t help but be impressed with the drums.
10. “El Dorado” The last track of the album begins with a slow synthy guitar tone. Cohen sings “Well I was never meant for the Promised Land / Just a wandering Jew / When I die in the desert, take my bones with you” as the guitars smack an echoey slap and the synth-tone swells in and out on each down-beat. During the instrumental break at 2:27, the guitars and organ-sounding guitars dance alongside one another, stepping back to let the other shine for a moment before stepping forward to lead. Cohen joins in again at 3:05 with harmonies that compliment him well (I mean, it’s his own voice backing him). This lullaby-tempoed song is perfect to end the album as it ends the psych-fest we’ve been on for the past hour.