The new record from Kayla Cohen’s Itasca is full of crisp mountain air and rivulets of gorgeous folk guitar. Its the culmination of her many years as an artist welling her writing into a soft breeze of folk that places her in ranks with Linda Perhacs, Vashti Bunyan, and Jackson C. Frank. The record is full of isolation and loneliness, an absolute treasure of meditative bliss. Naturally I was curious to see what Cohen might pick as a hidden gem, delving back into her own influences. She went not towards the delicate side, or into the garden of fingerpicked folk, but to a source of power from T.S. McPhee and company’s later years as The Groundhogs. Check out how Kayla found Solid and what effect it’s had on her own works over the years.
“I came to Solid through George Brigman, recalls Cohen, “who is maybe much more of a hidden gem, his albums Jungle Rot and I Can Hear the Ants Dancin’ are masterpieces. He was a die-hard Groundhogs fan, he named his self-released record label Solid Records, called his band Split after a Groundhogs album, and referenced Tony McPhee in song titles. So, since I was so into George Brigman, I knew I would be into the Groundhogs too, but it took me a few years to listen to them. Solid is a later Groundhogs album, made after the three LPs they released from 1970-1972 that are their most well known. It seems maybe that was their heyday, so in that way this album is a more rejected and subdued hidden cut.”
“Kayla elaborates, “The combination in Solid of the hard picked acoustic guitar (like in the intro on “Free From All Alarm”) and the effected vocals is so strange, perfect and evocative. The album sounds like standing in the middle of a cornfield at night, hearing the sound of a great rock band playing up near the big house on the other side of the field. You’ve been driving for a few days so you are sort of wired but so relieved to be able to just relax and hang out for an evening. It’s the feeling of being outside of time and modernity for an eve.”
“The muddy production,” she reveals, “is essential to the sound, there are so many great hooks on this album (“Sad Go Round”, “Plea Sing, Plea Song”), and strange production decisions — like the phaser and the echo on the vocals in “Corn Cob” — are what makes this record so perfect. In this it’s also not a grandiose album, it’s sort of boilerplate, there are only nine songs and the last one is an 8-minute jam — maybe the album was a bit of an afterthought, they knew it wouldn’t be huge so they didn’t really care about perfecting it, or worrying too much about things like running an entire song through a phaser, like on “Snowstorm”. In that it sounds free and more raw, as if they didn’t labor over any of the production decisions for too long.”
“This record, and the general Groundhogs style has been an influence on my music,” admits Cohen. Though my music is more folk-based and softer, I try to keep things like this record’s style in mind, to be open to looseness and strangeness in arrangements and an occasional disconsonant guitar solo. This record reminds me that it’s more important to capture a feeling than to chase perfection when the chase starts to feel stale.”
I’d have to agree with Kayla, the record is certainly overlooked. I’ve alway been partial to Split or Thank Christ For The Bomb, but the Groundhogs never really released a bad record over the years. This one deserves more than a second listen or two. Thought its not widely available on LP, some Discogs diggin’ shouldn’ put too much of a dent in the wallet for a used copy. There are also a few reissued CD versions and digital if you’re looking that route. I’d recommend getting into The Groundhogs through any means, plus, while you’re at it, grab Itasca’s latest while you’re looking around. The record is out this week on Paradise of Bachelors.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.