Innocent and ambitious, Hannah Cohen left her native San Francisco and moved to New York at age 17, with dreams of modeling for high fashion. Soon enough, the Golden State debutante fell in with the right crowd, becoming a favorite muse of Richard Prince, Terry Richardson and other prominent New York photographers. It wasn’t until later, while vacationing in Brazil with her then boyfriend, Jesse Harris (who wrote Nora Jones’ “Don’t Know Why”), that Cohen picked up a guitar, discovering a newfound forte in addition to her intoxicating natural beauty. Multitalented artists are rare breeds, mythical almost—like a unicorn or a Bengal Tiger. And in fact, that suits Cohen just fine. In a recent interview with Nowness.com, Cohen said her music, “is for unicorns. It is in the sad unicorn genre.”
Bringing mythical creatures to tears wherever they may roam, Cohen’s first album, Child Bride, dropped in 2012 garnering acclaim for her sad and sultry vocals over folky guitar. And three years later, Cohen is back with a new album, a new sound, but the same spunk. Her latest, Pleasure Boy, is a departure from her debut release with leaps forward both musically and emotionally.
“Sonically the records are worlds apart,” Cohen wrote Campus Circle recently from SXSW. “I wanted to get away from sad girl folk songs on guitar so we took all the songs off guitar and moved to synths and keyboards and percussion.”
Pleasure Boy opens with “Keepsake,” an ethereal pop song akin to Lana del Rey as opposed to her previous, shall we say, Cat Power vibe. With orchestral build-ups, rolling synths and a chorus worthy of a Kia Sonata commercial, the first track makes a statement. Cohen is no longer the sweet Cali chick with a guitar; she’s a pop princess with subterranean depth. Setting the tone straight away, Cohen asks on the first track, “Was she worth it?” It’s clear that this album tells the tale of betrayal and subsequent heartbreak. “Pleasure Boy is in a way calling someone out but also having a sense of humor about it all and the heartbreak,” wrote Cohen.
Another breakaway track from the old Cohen is the dark, nearly nightmarish “Queen of Ice.” With horns, synth and a caustic drum kit, the track is like a scary movie; it’s unsympathetic and menacing but you don’t want to look away, or in this case disengage your ear buds. “I wrote this on a broken autoharp,” said Cohen. “I wanted the song to be scary almost, witchy…”
Once light and coffee-shop-y, Cohen’s music has now taken a turn for the shadows. Pleasure Boy is a transformation, a more mature Cohen than fans may not recognize. But what sparked her departure into darkness? Perhaps New York toughened up her once golden sheen. Perhaps it was a harsh breakup, fueled by the pain of infidelity. When asked, Cohen doesn’t budge. Instead, speaking of her inspiration for the new sound, Cohen coyly said: “I was in a whiskey state of mind.”
Pleasure Boy is available today via Bella Union.