Monday, 30 July 2012

Magic Trick - Ruler Of The Night

If ever a record has sounded like the aural equivalent of joss sticks and patchouli oil it is ‘Ruler of the Night’. Eschewing the complex, almost proggish narrative of last year’s ‘The Glad Birth of Love’, the second album by San Francisco singer-songwriter, Tim Cohen and his backing group is a collection of smoky downbeat sing-alongs that conjure the ghosts of Skip Spence or Arthur Lee on the comedown after their psychedelic voyages.

The opening track nods cheekily to Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ with dramatic vocals from Cohen and minor key piano backing but from then on the focus is more on mood than any specific cultural references. The sleepy arrangements can be surprisingly experimental, with autoharp and slide guitar that brings to mind PJ Harvey or the Bad Seeds.

‘Invisible at Midnight’ features a comforting acoustic guitar figure and bluesy pleas ‘Lord please forgive me’ over Latin percussion and backing singers Noell Cahill and Alicia Vanden Heuvel’s wordless chants. Weaving Fleet Foxes harmonies dominate on ‘Torture’, with the two backing singers bewitching and bewailing the hapless narrator before a descending guitar hook takes over whilst ‘Next to Nothing’ suddenly pivots around a minimal flute motif, soaring wordlessly with as much power as any vocal track on the album. These idiosyncrasies manage to be artfully engaging, fusing 60’s spirit to a DIY ethic evident in the album’s stripped back production.

The problem with ‘Ruler of the Night’ is that whilst this hazy atmosphere is a reassuring fug to sink into for an evening there are few moments of real distinction. After half a dozen listens you’re no closer to decoding what it is that makes Cohen tick. He wears the guise of downbeat balladeer well but even a line as ominous and filled with potential as ‘I’m barely alive today’ on ‘Melodies’ is all threat and little substance. On early standout ‘Sunny’ he claims he’s ‘only trouble…what took you so long to find out?’ The real magic trick would lie in crafting a convincing narrative to hang his undoubtedly curious threads upon.


Max Sefton

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