I’m not familiar with Hannah Cohen’s previous work, but I’ve fallen from a great height for her third LP, Welcome Home, which came out a couple of months ago. Inspired by a desire to leave her cramped and confined conditions in New York City for a new life upstate, that sense of escape comes through in the relaxed, expansive feel of the music, an adventurous combination of folk, light funk, 80s style pop and more. But lyrically there’s a different freedom at work, as Cohen’s soul-bearing lyrics feel truly fearless, contrasting the open vistas of the music with an almost claustrophobic vulnerability. It’s a record that feels extremely personal, but one that I can’t help finding parts of myself within too: when Cohen talks about her ‘old bruises‘ which have ‘faded away with time‘, my own seem to feel a little more sensitive to the touch.
From the first chiming chords of opener “This Is Your Life’, Welcome Home feels comfortable in its own skin. A combination of folky classical guitar and an almost R&B style rhythm track, the two things never feel in conflict with each other, instead giving the track a relaxed, soothing feel. The adventurous lyrics – “The moment you see it, you want it, take the risk’ – seem a little out of place at first in such a calm setting, but they’re very much of a piece with the clarity and focus that emanates from the song. From there though, things get emotional very quickly. “All I Wanted” is the first of a number of relationship confessionals, as Cohen painfully dissects the end of an affair in almost masochistic terms – “I used to touch your body and your eyes would roll back” – unwilling to let love die when it’s clearly on the way out. All this is set to a gloriously washed out synth soundscape, her sweet, soaring voice initially dominating the arrangement before the languid rhythm track kicks in, all squelching bass and gently shuffling percussion. “Old Bruiser” plays on similar themes as Cohen works through a series of reminiscences, moving from sexual abandon to petty arguments with a rueful but seductive air, as the music pulsates in tropical bliss.
Elsewhere, the album moves towards more straightforward pop on the likes of “Get In Line”, with its pulsing funk guitar and disco shuffle, and these tracks largely come off just as well. “Holding On” is perhaps the best of them, again fuelled by the liquid sunshine sound that permeates the album, as Cohen chronicles falling head over heels in love in typically open fashion. “What’s This All About” is the one place where she strips everything back, leaving just an unadorned piano and her stark vocal to express the confusion and fear of searching for meaning in a life gone stale. It’s a stand out moment, not only because it’s yet another heartbreakingly gorgeous song, but also because its simplicity adds one more layer to a record that frequently combines differing approaches with ease.
Welcome Home is a bold and joyous album that wrings great beauty from the ecstasy and turmoil of life. Musically beguiling and lyrically frank, Hannah Cohen is an artist who gives everything of herself in a way that’s both unnerving in its honesty and touching in the connection that it makes. What marks this album’s perfection though is that, when everything else feels like too much, this record is still exactly what I want to hear. A gem of a summertime album.