“Aloneness is a state of being,” Townes Van Zandt once observed, “Whereas loneliness is a state of feeling.” On Unmoored by the Wind, Kayla Cohen, a.k.a. Itasca, spends much of her time navigating between those two states. Her folk-derived style is one that seems necessarily borne from many hours spent in solitude and quiet contemplation. And though this solitude has clearly given Cohen the space to perfect her instrumental craft and to revel in the rhythms of the natural world, there is also a subtle tug of melancholy coursing through many of these songs that speaks to a sense of displacement and a yearning for community or connection.
Unmoored by the Wind is Cohen’s second album proper under the Itasca name, following a string of CD-R and cassette releases, including several mystic drone and experimental works that she recorded under the name Sultan. On this album her work can be classified as a much more straightforward form of homespun folk. Cohen’s delicate and expert fingerpicking places her work somewhere in the area of American Primitive, a genre that can always stand to benefit from additional female performers. But on Unmoored by the Wind, her vocals are an even bigger draw. She has a voice that is at once striking and vaguely familiar, the type of voice that will send folk-nerds to rack their memories to decide which other obscure or semi-obscure singer she most resembles. (I’m going with Bridget St. John and/or Sibylle Baier for now.)
Recorded at her home in Los Angeles, the album features the occasional flutter of flute or overdubbed vocal, but is otherwise built almost exclusively on Cohen’s voice and acoustic guitar. She does a fine job of balancing the album’s lyric and instrumental passages, and constructs her songs with enough textural variety and narrative energy that the album’s momentum never flags despite the simplicity of its production. Aside from such baroque interludes as “Colt in Hiding”, which features multi-tracked layers of angelic vocals, the album’s overall tone is one of conversational intimacy, and it is not difficult for listeners to feel as if we’ve been invited to pull up a chair right there in the room with her, with the shades partially drawn.
This never feels more literally true than on the prayer-like “After Dawn”, which finds the singer sitting quietly by her window watching as the sunlight changes and people flow past. It’s as though she is viewing the world and its human activities from a distant remove, a meditative sort of self-imposed seclusion that is further echoed on such tracks as the pastoral “The Hermit’s View” or the dreamy instrumental idyll of “Walking in Hahamongna”.
Elsewhere, however, this sense of isolation from the world grows a bit more pronounced. On the narcotic “Dream of the Water Bearer”, the song’s narrator, beset by mysterious dream figures, helplessly waves her hands in the air “just to see if I could change the picture.” Similar dream figures appear in “Nature’s Gift”, images that “seem as if I’ve called them here” although she is unable to determine how “these angels can help me out.”
When the dreamy cobwebs clear away, as on the wake-up call “Alleyway” (“I walk out my door to find the world same as it was before”) and especially on the radiant “Congregation”, Cohen writes personal pep-talks with the lucidity and clarity of a self-help manual, variously singing “I’ve got to change my ways” or “I’ve got to find my hopeful place to rest” like she is writing lines in a private journal. This feeling that we, as listeners, have been granted access into Itasca’s private inner sanctum is what helps give Unmoored by the Wind its quiet gravity, and her ample instrumental skills and deft songcraft make this invitation well worth your while.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/14ZLhw4