Here’s an interesting line with which to start off an album: “What’ the matter / You never seen a man on fire?” The first track of San Francisco indie rocker Tim Cohen’s second solo outing bursts out the gate from the moment you press play with that line, getting in a quick laugh that sets the tone for the genial candor the man provides throughout Tim Cohen’s Magic Trick. The track is a standard indie acoustic strummer, but you cannot help but pay the utmost attention to Cohen’s lyrics for that excellent opening line.
Tim Cohen’s Magic Trick is, for the most part, an indie folk album in the vein of first track “I Am Never Going to Die” with splashes of ‘50’s pop ala Roy Orbison thrown in. Cohen’s penchant for the well phrased and humorous is always the album’s main draw, but it is not meant to be a comedic release or even a send-up of folk trends in the vein of The Magnetic Fields’ 2010 album, Realism. Instead, Cohen’s lyrics give the songs of Magic Trick warmth, building upon his character rather well as the album goes on. Whether exuding comfort or comic relief, he’s a personality worth listening to, and he consistently pleases at molding rhetoric to complement his songs.
The album’s instrumentation is standard but well produced. It rarely indulges itself or diverges from its layout of acoustic guitars, lush bass and hand percussion. When it does, those new elements tend to stick out but in a way that aids their respective songs. The electric guitar on “The Spirit’s Inside” makes it sound more like a fun take on Ariel Pink’s take on a 60’s AM radio. The organ in “Top on Tight” adds to the song’s playful nature and the warped synth in “Hey Little One” makes the track more hectic to suit its painfully short length. Because Cohen’s voice does not have a very high range, he often has female voices backing him up, which often steps up the beauty of his songs, as is the case with “Hey Little One” and the heavenly coda of “I Looked Up”.
So bottom line is to come for the personality and stay for the brilliant songwriting. Though his influences are far from revolutionary, Cohen has the ability to take these recognizable elements and infuse them with a dry wit that grants them much uniqueness to spare. Whether he’s dismissing love in a monotone on “Legendemain” or flipping the tunnel of love concept on its head in the song of the same name (“We are two speeding trains / In the tunnel of love”), Cohen sets himself apart from his lo-fi scuzzmuffin colleagues in his predilection for legitimate songwriting. The guy’s rather prolific, working on many side projects such as The Fresh & Onlys to keep fans thoroughly satisfied with his distinct brand of folk. So, if you like Tim Cohen’s Magic Trick, there’ll plenty more where that came from.