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Chris Cohen - Overgrown Path

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Artist: Chris Cohen

Album: Overgrown Path

Label: Captured Tracks

Review date: Sep. 25, 2012

Chris Cohen has a pleasant little pedigree when it comes to making music, playing with the likes of Deerhoof, White Magic and Ariel Pink’s band, as well as performing himself as The Curtains (whose album Calamity I quite liked). Overgrown Path, the first album recorded under his own name, however doesn’t sound much like any of those bands, not even The Curtains. Rather, I’m reminded somewhat of a less-weird Robert Wyatt or perhaps Todd Rundgren. Either way, it’s a nice album.

One of the things that’s really interesting about it, though, is its relationship with nostalgia. We all have a very complicated relationship with our own pasts, let alone the past history of the world, an unwieldy, tentacled blob of a thing that finds expression in each of us in different ways. That is to say, History is a complicated mass of ideas and culture, and each of us is an expression of a miniscule part of that tangled mess of ideas and customs. The metaphor is a bit sinister then. History sits as some massive Cthulhu-like being, and each of us are avatars of little bits of History.

One of the things art is particularly good at is parsing our relationship to History, speaking to it, identifying and commenting on the past and making it emotionally available to us in the way that a text can’t. An extreme example is the Holocaust: It’s academic to count out numbers and list names, but sit down in front of Schindler’s List or Shoah, and it comes to mean something for the viewer in a more profound way.

But there’s also art that mimics that past in an attempt to place you in a certain time period. Wes Anderson is good at this. The Wonder Years perhaps less so, but the point is to get as close to the emotional feeling of being of a particular time period as one can get — in a sense, using nostalgia as one’s medium, regardless of artform (music, visual art, film, etc.).

On Overgrown Path, Cohen, like The Olivia Tremor Control or The Apples in Stereo, does something very similar. He makes pop music that sounds like it could be from the 1960s. It’s part homage, part nostalgia trip, part commentary on what Cohen finds interesting or on the kind of music he thinks is worth making. A larger questions then is, what does it mean to be making ’60s pop in 2012? Besides Cohen’s personal reasons, it’s an interesting time for ’60s nostalgia. In the same way Mad Men makes sense now, when it might not have at another time, 2012 is rather tumultuousness. It marks a similar turning period, where one generation, whose influence loomed large, is collapsing, while the Millennials become more and more influential. Perhaps we are witness to a time where there is a particularly strong resonance with the ’60s, making it an opportune time for Cohen to play with nostalgia.

By Andrew Beckerman

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