Chris Cohen

Overgrown Path

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Though Chris Cohen's name might not ring any bells for a lot of people, his playing has silently enriched countless records and live performances for better-known acts for years. Apart from being a key contributor to criminally underappreciated bands like Curtains and Cryptacize, Cohen played with Deerhoof, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Cass McCombs, White Magic, and many others for years before striking out under his own name with Overgrown Path. The album's nine songs of gently psyched-out orchestral rock don't sound so much like a continuation of any of the bands he's worked with over the years as they do an incredible expansion of the ideas he planted seeds for with former bands. The album's understated songs are deftly organized affairs of both arrangement and dynamics. Phased-out guitars and buried beddings of piano wrap around Cohen's unconventionally shifting song structures, never becoming jarring, but hiding a menacing undertone that lurks below the surface of almost every song. There's a soft rock groove that runs throughout the record, too, with songs like "Caller No 99" calling on equal amounts of Gerry Rafferty's vocal mellowness, Van Dyke Parks' rolling sense of open-road melody, and several eras of Al Stewart. Cohen's ability to meld observations on the natural world with a sense of the darkness of the human spirit even calls up undercurrents of the Grateful Dead's hippie Zen, with songs like "Monad" using swirling guitars and glowing harmonies to reflect on the sometimes treacherous, sometimes gentle force of the ocean waves. This feeling is apparent in the gorgeously empty track "Solitude" as well, which recalls Holland-era Beach Boys and the early-morning loneliness of the lone shoreline walker with its spare organ and bass figures. The bouncily velvety "Optimist High" invites Colin Blunstone over to Robert Wyatt's house for tea while Nick Drake paces back and forth on the street outside the window, hoping the two will notice and let him in to join the party. Overgrown Path is a perfectly conceived album, rich with both surprisingly sticky melodies and deceptively powerful psych-rock touches. The songs are so subtle they take a while to sink in, but like the best of all the artists Cohen takes cues from (as well as those he's helped create with over the years), the album works best as a whole, and unfolds a little more with each revisitation. With songs this strong, it's an easy album to keep coming back to.

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