Chris Cohen, “Chris Cohen” (Captured Tracks)
Like a vaccine on a sugar cube, Chris Cohen’s third album disguises consequential content with sweet sounds and agreeable melodies.
Considering events framing its creation — like his parents’ divorce after 53 years of marriage and his dad’s coming out — one might expect sadness, brooding and confusion. Cohen, on the other hand, talks about “being relieved of a great burden,” like decades of lies, suspicions and perplexity melting away.
As a result, this self-titled effort doesn’t sound much removed from his earlier records, its gentle brightness and simple, swaying arrangements soothing the ears. While here and there it’s possible to find family references, the lyrics to half the album were written by others.
Cohen, whose roving career has seen him involved with the likes of Deerhoof, Cass McCombs and Ariel Pink — creates lean versions of carnival-like pop (“Sweet William”), late ’70s singer-songwriter fare (“Edit Out”), and other similarly tight arrangements that provide variety with a very personal imprint.
“House Carpenter” is one of several names for a traditional Scottish ballad of the kind that never ends well. It’s achingly sad and its dirge-like pace quickly condemns it without offers for redemption. Cohen’s original song “The Link” may be closest to it in mood, though the scene framed by harpsichord and Kasey Knudsen’s sour saxophone is more regretful than tragic.
“Heavy Weather Sailing,” ”No Time to Say Goodbye” and “Green Eyes” — about his father and grandfather — form a highly engaging, if occasionally disquieting trio of tunes totaling less than 10 minutes. If you listen closely, they’ll echo for much longer.