Now, that is what the fuck I’m talking about.
From the first grungy, then vaguely pixelated, guitar chords of album-opener “Trembling Hands,” Arizona, the second record proper by loop-rock “band” Mylets, just grabs you by the ears and controls you. It will not let go. Unlike last year’s predecessor, Retcon, a hit-and-miss affair that showed some great ambition but as many great gaps in songwriting cred, Arizona is an incredible, enlightening, engaging, wonderful record, made all the more beautiful and accomplished by the fact that it is the product of one man and one man alone, post-Tween uber-guitar-structuralist Henry Kohen.
Now, let it be read into the record: Kohen always has had guitar chops. Anybody who ever has watched the guy on YouTube (Click here and here) or wondered how he stirs that brand of magic and mysticism from a series of whiz-bang sound-effects pedals knows this as drop-dead fact. But Arizona reveals him to be a songwriter of emotion beyond his years and also of surprising depth. Songs are ruminations more than collections of verses and choruses. Even the vocals and band constructions, which sounded like an afterthought on early demos, resonate with real punch and vigor here.
The new record – out on Sargeant House, for those keeping track of the credits – also reveals Kohen to be more of a conventionalist than he might have initially posited himself to be. While the textures of Retcon called to mind the calc-minded madness of Battles’ six-string brain Ian Williams, on Arizona, Kohan seems interested in building those textures into grandiose emo-and pop-rock statements. Think The Edge fronting Don Caballero – or The National texture-slingers Aaron and Bryce Dessner in The Police at its most art-rockish. Surprisingly, it works, and it might make the record more accessible – despite all the bizarre machinations of Kohen’s guitars – to a wider audience that Williams ever has had. (The closing of “Trembling Hands” could make much of 1992’s tribe flash a thumbs-up, for example.)
That’s not to say the record, though, doesn’t quack and quirk. “Honeypot” is deliciously offbeat, off-time and even downright volatile at times. The verses and ooh-ed/aah-ed bridges to “Retcon” will make the post-rockers among us drool in their morning Corn Flakes. “Homes” is delightfully synthetic and moody. “Ampersand?” Well, that’s always been a gem. (Here’s evidence.)
The thing hangs together well, even alarmingly so. There’s not a sour note, not an effect out of its element, not a spring that doesn’t boing on cue. The kid’s just nailed it.
The record ends, nine songs through and through, with “Sharks,” a touch of melancholy and straight-forward pseudo-balladry to round out the proceedings. It’s a nice touch, a light little landing with some spare electro-percussion and other deceptively “simple” flourishes, after a record chock full of carefully constructed and reconstructed sound. It’s also a window onto another quality of Kohen’s: his restraint. Hey, maybe there are more chapters to this book, after all.
After Arizona, I’m paying attention. You should, too.