Hannah Cohen – Pleasure Boy – Review

John Preston

Californian singer-songwriter Hannah Cohen’s debut album Child Bride was released in 2012 and probably passed you by. Pleasure Boy, its follow-up, may not be the most eagerly anticipated release of 2015 but to let it slip under the radar unheard would be a crying shame. Where Child Bride was predominately acoustic, withdrawn and reflective, Hannah Cohen’s follow-up has an omnipresent and altogether darker hum to it which underscores the prettier tracks, creating a welcome assertiveness whilst also benefiting from a sonic diversity not heard on her debut.

The theme of Pleasure Boy is romantic betrayal. Cohen has been clear that this concise, eight track album was born out of the debris of a bad breakup; and the boy of the title, all fun but commitment-phobic, seemed to cause her considerable but not irreparable damage. Produced again by Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman, a musician in his right who has collaborated with The National, Antony and the Johnsons and Martha Wainwright, the introduction of beats and a reoccurring synth-pop feel are satisfyingly immediate under his supervision. Classical arrangements, jazz and trip-hop also slip in and out of earshot and are anchored by Cohen’s skilled, subtle song writing.

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‘I’ll Fake It’ has a rogue synth line that will snake into your left ear. Pleasure Boy is an album that benefits from headphone use, dominant bass and a thumping, knocking percussion. ‘I know a good girl when I see one, and this one’s out for blood’ insists the pop chorus, which is the album’s most blatant attempt at a commercial sound. ‘Watching You Fall’ will inevitably draw Lana Del Rey comparisons. (‘I’m no kid, I’ll take you apart’) Cohen’s voice is disconcertingly coy, seductive and swaggering atop the rolling beats and Angelo Badelementi style strings. ‘Take the Rest’ by comparison, with its wheezing synth hook, diverts a warm and layered jazz – pop chorus.

‘Claremont Song’ is deliciously lush and heartbreaking with woodwind instrumentation and every crucifying word audible (‘Sing me the most beautiful thing that you could ever sing, now hurt me more until nothing else hurts then walk away from me’). The flip side to this self-punishing ritual, effectively laying back-to-back in the album’s track listing, is the appropriately titled ‘Queen of Ice’. Cohen suspended by demonic and hushed noises-off, and a staccato sax riff adding further tension this jazzy noir is indeed possessed, rebuilding strength maybe but at what cost? ‘Baby’ ends the album with an acoustic piano and guitar in a throwback to the more singular sound of her debut.

Structured more like an extended EP, as opposed to an album with its total running time at just over 30 minutes, ‘Pleasure Boy’ could not afford to carry dead wood and Hannah Cohen has seen to it that any slack has been trimmed right back. Beautifully crafted, devastating on occasion but relatable and all delivered with a supreme lightness of touch, do yourself a favour and make certain you seek this one out.

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About John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.