Amassing a war chest of tunes over a relatively short shelf time of a decade, Sam Cohen’s muses have taken on different, albeit likeminded dispositions. For his debut solo LP, Cool It, Cohen culls elements from all corners of his catalog, stretching psych-lite patinas over smartly dark pop and sunny melodies. It’s a trick that Cohen has mastered following his stints in his two most ballyhooed projects, Apollo Sunshine and Yellowbirds.
Based as it is in the kind of sonic arena that Yellowbirds’s 2013 high-watermark Songs from the Vanished Frontier explored, Cohen’s debut plays as a bit of a Part 2 to that album’s dynamic lo-fi psych-pop interplay. This all makes sense, as Yellowbirds was originally a solo project forged by Cohen, and his trademark melodic subtleties permeate the arrangements found on both records.
Opening with “Let the Mountain Come to You,” Cohen invokes similarly ambitious compositions as he has in the past, as a driving, choppy chord progression bobs in and out of steady bass, drums and as other ambient noises float atop. From the outset, Cohen’s playing—and he did play and record everything on the album, save for a few guest spots from his Yellowbirds bandmates—is impassioned, inventive stuff, especially his deftness of style on bass, which buoys pretty much every song on the album from the saturation that such motivated washes of guitar might otherwise drown from.
Evident on Cool It is a slightly more conservative aural palette from which to draw from, too, though this is of the “ever so” variety. Cohen’s tactful disbursement of experimental accoutrements to pock the soundscape is masterful, though less opaque than found on some of his more grandiose efforts. Even this critique, though, is more a comment on what a thrill it is to realize that Cohen’s songcraft can be stripped-down just slightly and sound suddenly more accessible to folks who may have been outside his wheelhouse before. “The Garden” is a good example of this shedding; Cohen beckons classic-rock tropes and guitar effects, “do-do-do” refrains and minor-chord descents, sounding suddenly like Dylan found himself singing in Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
“Don’t Shoot the Messenger” is a straight-ahead acoustic ballad, soft and reverb-heavy, Cohen wailing, “People die for lesser causes/when the violence of this place/starts to spit and foam just like the ocean/it’ll get you in the face,” pinpointing Cohen’s rudimentary but pointed lyricism, a cornerstone of such other standouts as the fantastically dreamy pop tune “Last Dream.”
Cohen is one of the good ones, one of those few unsung heroes of the timeless psych-pop songwriter realm. Cool It is a remarkable introduction to Cohen’s wonderfully bright world of sound, and a formidable primer for uncovering his previous work.