So let's begin. A background of the band that I located on Hardly Art informs me that Magic Trick started as a solo project for Cohen, who quickly realized that, like sex, music is more fun in groups (that's totally not what the page says; it actually reads "There’s strength and power in a collective endeavor and, really, unless you’re talking about David Bowie or Captain Beefheart, most people just like a band better."). Then Magic Trick's Facebook page filled me in on the rest of the members, which include James Kim, Alicia Vanden Heuvel, and Noelle Cahill, even if the page doesn't list their functions (I'm hoping that, like the Yip Deceiver folks, at least one of them serves as "executive vibes manager"). Furthermore, to jump back to the Hardly Art summary for a moment or two, the band plays indie-ish, pop-ish tunes, although Cohen grew up obsessed with hip hop, and he believes that that aesthetic influences his work. Lastly, to round things out, I'm going to pull a quote from Cohen from this interview over at Ghettoblaster Magazine. Or in Cohen's words, when asked when he began writing the songs that would eventually make it to River of Souls,
"I believe it was a brisk winter evening in Paonia two years ago. Cousin Oleg had just returned from the frontlines, we were toasting to his good fortune. Someone there had a pet ferret or mouse or something. A bit of glass got broken. I wrote a song called “Endangered Species” which was eventually kicked off the album."Which, incidentally, is EXACTLY the type of tongue-in-cheek response I would give if someone actually bothered to interview me about something. Then, later that night, when I got into bed, I would feel like a dick.
Okay, somehow I only just realized that Rhapsody doesn't actually have this whole album available for streaming - in fact, their version is missing the first three songs, one of which I've posted above, and one of which you can listen to here (and as far as the third one is concerned - hell, it be a Britney Spears cover with bagpipes and yodeling, and I'd have no idea). As for the remaining 9 songs, however, River of Souls is generally characterized by classic '60s pop guitar which occasionally goes Western, jaunty beats, plenty of female backup vocals, and Cohen's open but unpolished vocal delivery that veers deadpan with the lyrics. For instance, "Crazy Teeth" pairs a shimmy of percussive rattle with shootout-in-the-old-West guitars and then adds impossibly indie lyrics over top, ones which disparage perfect-teethed girls for those "with the crazy teeth," as Cohen likes "the crooked things they say to me". Not that the album's slight country leanings pervade the whole thing; "Bridge of Gold", on the other hand, can't help but remind me a little of '70s Neil Young music with its folksier feel, muddier guitars, and blackened ending interlude ("Don't you leave me here with Lucifer"), and "My World" presents yet another contrast in style, beginning with a doo-wop vibe and horns and then randomly transitioning to psychedelia halfway through ("I got a love, higher than all the stars above").
As we get close to the end of the year, I've been re-listening to some of my favorite 2013 releases in preparation for a series of "best-of" posts over the holidays. And one thing that this experience has taught me is that I like a good hook, a good beat, and a groove. Ultimately, that means that the cultivated irony of an album like River of Souls isn't really quite up my alley; while I enjoyed many of the songs, none of them made me stand up and holla, and Cohen's witty-observer viewpoint doesn't grip me the same way that a less self-conscious style might. If you're interested in wisecracking from the periphery over a homogenized "best-of" of five decades of pop styles, however, I can imagine that this record would be a very engaging listen. Or you could try it at a party, since you never know - like sex, it might be more fun in groups.