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Chris Cohen

Chris Cohen

Photo by Kate Dollenmayer

Live in Portland June 12, 2018 | Bunk Bar

California-based musician Chris Cohen captures the essence of The Golden State with his unique distillation of psychedelic pop. His sound brings to mind sunny summer afternoons, driving to the beach with the windows down and not taking life too seriously. He makes instantly catchy and incredibly listenable tracks that twang and stretch in the wind.

Before going solo, Cohen did a stint with weirdo rockers Deerhoof, playing guitar and bass on two of their cornerstone albums Milk Man and The Runners Four. He played drums in Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, did time with Cass McCombs, and also had several bands of his own–putting out four albums with The Curtains and two with Cryptacize. There’s a lot of talent compacted in a resume that long, and it’s no happenstance that his sound–and that of the bands orbiting him for the last 18 years–draw on similar pop sensibilities and turn them askew.

Cohen writes his songs based on feeling rather than intention, finding a chord progression, or even a specific word that has the right vowel sounds, and starting to craft from there, emphasizing the voice as an instrument more so than a narrative device. There is a sensibility of craft taking place here, one of pleasure over the confessional tell-all that is so defacto with lyrics.

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With the 2012 debut Overgrown Path, the template of good-vibe pop is set with songs like  “Optimist High” espousing “Summer’s here and it never goes away,” a line, while not transcendental in meaning, matches his cordial tone of voice and is intrinsically valuable as a waking meditation.

The new album As if Apart (his second), is still full of light touches, tunes for a barbeque and easy-yet-deep layers. There’s an exercise in emotive reminiscing here, with slowed tempos and reverb on “Memory” and “Lender,” while “Yesterday’s on my Mind” is a bittersweet walk past an old apartment, remembering happy times. Cohen’s at his best when he’s sending emotion your way, even if you didn’t know what he was singing, you’d still understand what he meant.