Tim Cohen – Magic Trick

Rating: ★★★★ ·

For most listeners, you’re probably expecting anything coming from Tim Cohen to somewhat resemble his haunting vocal performances from his main gig, The Fresh & Onlys.  But, while that dark tinted vocal is still there, Tim’s been creating music on his own for some time, this being his second solo release in about a year (making that 3 in a year, all work included).  Magic Trick establishes itself as his most timeless release to date, making Cohen a hot commodity in the small indie rock community.

“I Am Never Going to Die” sounds precisely like something your father might have listened to if he grew up in the late 60s.  It was probably a track played by his roommate while they sat in some bong circle, promising one another that they were going to make themselves happy.  Yet you won’t have to travel back in time to enjoy this piece, nor do you necessarily have to partake in recreational drugs; Tim’s music, as well as the themes throughout Magic Trick, apply just as much now as they did then.

The haunting vision of Tim Cohen that I have in my head revolves around those vocals, teetering on the edge of despair, such as you get on a song like “The Flower.”  Still, even with his songs having this shady quality, a track like this reminds you of dark crooners such as Richard Hawley, giving you dense pop songs in a simply beautiful format.  Similarly, “Ledgerdemain” operates in the same spectrum, using a heavy vocal to discuss themes of love as seen through one man’s perspective.  The light piano touches and floating female vocal accompaniment definitely bring an extra punch to this number.

But, perhaps the most notable style present on Magic Trick are the allusions to the psychedelia of years past, only viewed through a more modern lens. It’s hard to go through listening to a track like “The Spirit’s Inside” without noticing the cascading guitars that go with the moody electronic piano.  Not only that, but it hints back at those low-budget movies during the black-and-white era where your hero has a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve.  “Season of Fires” definitely has some California vibe to it, almost as if it’s the long lost Doors demo, except a tad bit better, as Cohen’s a better poet in my mind.

One of the remarkable things about listening to Magic Trick in its entirety is that you want to put some many songs in certain generic boxes, pushing influences onto the Tim Cohen, but where he seems to have progressed greatly on this album are the darker pop tracks, like those mentioned above or the album closer, “I Looked Up.”  Such touches of songwriting demonstrate that he’s more than just a one-trick pony.  While it may seem that Cohen’s been around for quite some time, this record is the first one that really shows he’s heading in the right direction, even if we didn’t see them coming right away.  Tim Cohen might be a man who loves the past, but he’s certainly the man of the moment.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Tim-Cohen-Dont-Give-Up.mp3]

Download: Tim Cohen – Don’t Give Up [MP3]

New Music from Tim Cohen

You probably recognize Tim Cohen as the frontman for one of my favorite groups, The Fresh & Onlys. But, that’s not his only gig, as he’s been honing his craft for some time as a solo artist, releasing several albums.  He’s got another one titled Magic Trick coming out via Captured Tracks on February 22nd, and maybe this will be the one when people really start to take notice of his skills.  This first single has a nice little juxtaposed female voice countering with Tim’s gruff vocals, which definitely provides a smoother tone to the song as a whole, making Tim seem more like a Sonny Smith style songwriter than merely just a beastly frontman.  You won’t hear a bad song on this record; I can guarantee that.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Tim-Cohen-Dont-Give-Up.mp3]

Download: Tim Cohen – Don’t Give Up [MP3]

The Fresh & Onlys – Play It Strange

Rating: ★★★★½

Let’s face it, a lot of the stuff coming down the pipe from San Francisco is going to be labeled with some sort of psychedelic tag, but as we’re all likely to see, a great deal of the bands are starting to mature, crafting stronger songs, music that’s meant to be deemed nothing more than that, music.  The new record from The Fresh & Onlys, titled Play It Strange, still holds hints of the psych-tag, but listening closely, you’ll surely notice the great strides this band has made with this effort.

“Summer of Love” probably doesn’t do much to move the band out of the San Francisco sound, but what it does show, upon first listen, is a cleaner sounding band, though there are still haunting effects on singer Tim Cohen’s vocals.  The guitars sound much sharper, the drums have a bit more clarity, and you’ve got a winner already.  Pushing forward, “Waterfall” seems to have the faintest hint of “oohs” secretly hiding in the far background, but that’s just one extra touch to make you fall in love.  The chorus is perfected, with the slightest echo as Tim sings “fall with me into the water,” but the greatest part is that spaghetti western guitar line beneath the group’s normal jangle.  This is perhaps one of the brightest moments on Play It Strange.

If you’re looking to see the band bring on something a bit more headstrong, look no further than “All Shook Up.”  You’ll get pounding drums in your ears as soon as you press play, highlighting one of the oft overlooked factors in the band’s success, their rhythm section.  While it may not be the strongest performance by Cohen, the intermingling guitar lines fit perfectly into the fuzzy bass lines and steady beat.  It’s reminiscent of classic 50s rock n’ roll, just cowering beneath a hazy fog of darkness, sort of like the cover art. It’s funny, but if you remove some of the recording processes from The Fresh & Onlys, you’d probably find a really solid pop band lurking somewhere.  “Fascinated” brings to mind various lesser-known Brit pop groups of the early 90s, but the band bring it out through a lens of their own.  The melody is catchy as you would expect, but you have to listen closely, digging deeper into the relevant nostalgia the group offer up to your ears.

While the majority of the songs on Play It Strange fall under the 3 minute range, there are some real slow-burners, none more special than “I’m a Thief.”  Cohen has this coy vocal walk through during the verses, pleading for his lover to remain faithful to her heart, which he claims to have stolen.  But, the chorus is a bit brighter, not lyrically, but emotionally, providing a bit of swing to the song, just before they close it out in instrumental fashion. Such songs clearly illustrate that the band has gone back further than the psychedelic era, drawing from more classic rock sounds as their influence, but they’re coating it in the dingy atmosphere of dive bars and seedy hole-in-the wall establishments.  It’s clear that The Fresh & Onlys are growing, and with the prolific songwriting of Tim Cohen, Play It Strange is just a sign of greater things to come.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/The-Fresh-Onlys-Waterfall.mp3]

Download: The Fresh & Onlys – Waterfall [MP3]

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