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Cha Cha Cohen - All Artists Are Criminals

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Artist: Cha Cha Cohen

Album: All Artists Are Criminals

Label: Chemikal Underground

Review date: Jan. 9, 2003

Mark E. Cha Cha

Cha Cha Cohen don't play the sort of Jewish ballroom-dancing favorites that their name might lead you to expect. Even so, the diverse mix of dark cocktail grooves, beat-heavy indie pop, and fluid retro funk found on their second album for Chemikal Underground may set your feet moving and your head bobbing.

With roots in two storied bands from the late 20th century, Cha Cha Cohen have an excellent pedigree: bassist Keith Gregory and drummer Simon Smith did stints with Leeds favorites the Wedding Present and singer Jaqi Gregory was a core member of the Leeds/New York noise-rockers the Dustdevils.

While appropriating, plagiarizing, and generally ripping off the sounds of earlier artists are presumably among the (entirely forgivable) crimes alluded to by the album title, Cha Cha Cohen don't plunder their own back catalogs here. Lineage notwithstanding, All Artists Are Criminals bears little resemblance to records by the band members' previous outfits; there's none of the dissonance of the Dustdevils and barely a hint of the Wedding Present's jangling guitars and manic rhythmic rush. Still, just as Jaqi Gregory's voice was one of the Dustdevils' memorable signatures, much of Cha Cha Cohen's character derives from her distinctive vocal presence and attitude.

Certain more eloquent reviewers have described Jaqi Gregory as a "smacked-out Chrissie Hynde" and "Lauren Bacall fronting the Fall." Both assessments are spot-on but the second of the two is the more evocative; it neatly encapsulates the feel of several tracks that combine hectoring, repetitious, Mark E. Smith-style vocal phrasings (albeit without use of the interjection "uh") and a rhythm section that's jagged, propulsive, and shambling all at once. The idea of two Mark E. Smiths on this planet is daunting. The idea of a female Mark E. Smith is also mildly disturbing. And the idea of a female Mark E. Smith who exudes sassiness and sex-appeal is, as Smith himself might put it, wonderful and frightening. Numbers like "Heck Singhi" and the moderately funky "Taxi" best capture Cha Cha Cohen's Fall-esque inclinations.

The album also has its darker, downtempo interludes. The stark melody and sparse, smoky clockwork beat of "August" suggest a harsher version of Portishead. With its eerie synth fragments and deep, chiming piano chords, "Last Minute Girl" ventures into the type of noir territory mapped out by Barry Adamson. Comparisons with Adamson (especially in terms of his recent work) are borne out by the more upbeat "Century Life," which introduces some funky retro-horn samples. In the same vein is "The Wavemaker," a full-on '70s cinematic soul-funk number that would be a perfect theme song to the imaginary film Cha Cha Cohen's Big Score.

Although this release isn't perhaps as instantly gratifying as the band's self-titled 1999 debut, once you've given it a few listens it's definitely as rewarding. Apparently, crime does pay.

By Wilson Neate

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