The recording booth is Sam Cohen’s personal time machine
The young musician’s mastery of in-studio subtleties – like the nuanced placement of drum mics that makes “Unconditional Love” feel straight from a late 60s Neil Young cut, or the tasteful bit of reverb on the lead vocal track of “Last Dream” – that enable his detachment from this frail plane of existence in order to craft records out of time. Impressive as it all is, Cool It’s sonic authenticity is hardly beginner’s luck. Cohen’s had years of practice at this mixing board witchcraft, cultivating a reputation as a master knob-twiddler by working with everyone from Shakira to fellow studio stalwart Russ Irwin to members of The National, The Walkmen and Bob Weir for the 2012 live show The Bridge Session. To call Cohen’s first solo album an attempt to reconcile the alternative brooding of Apollo Sunshine and the psychedelic pop of the nigh-vanity project Yellowbirds would be semi-accurate, but also kind of reductive. There’s no more sonic clash to Cool It than, say, a painstakingly arranged Moody Blues record. These are not the sounds of Cohen’s search for direction, but rather a long-anticipated convergence.
Opener “Let The Mountain Come To You” serves as a reliable indicator of what’s to follow, blanketing the atmosphere with wooly Magical Mystery Tour synths and the buzzing guitars of psychedelic garage pop. “Pretty Lights” taps into the same historic, tube amp-induced warmth held up by a groovy bass line and loose, leisurely tom rolls. As with the songwriting of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Sam Cohen’s method of harvesting all the now-refined and perfected techniques of psychedelic rock and taking a retroactive crack at an already-solidified genre is… cheating, kind of. Just a bit. Cohen and his ilk’s proclivity to sift through the obscure, experimental 60s bands like The Velvet Underground and The Monks and 13th Floor Elevators, picking out the bits that work and discarding the bits that don’t, certainly eliminates the risk factor in songwriting on some level.
This would be a bigger issue if the results weren’t as convincing. In “The Garden,” Cohen works the studio in a way that would impress legendary production rats like Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa. Lead guitars and multi-korgs dance back and forth between speakers while layered “do-do’s” oscillate in and out like a toned down Pet Sounds. There’s no structural ambition or grand artistic themes, but such trappings would feel out of place amid the crystalline production and stylistic pastiche. “Kepler 62” even pinpoints the crucial intersection of the dreamy psychedelia of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the synth-riddled glam pop of David Bowie and Roxy Music. This record seems so ripe for disliking, but it’s so benign, so amiable, so inoffensive. Even Cohen’s voice sounds like a combination of John Lennon and Tom Petty, the most statistically likable combination in all of soft rock, and Sam Cohen’s had the formula distilled for years.