Making a name for yourself as an artist that plays a genre that has had little mainstream relevance in the past several years can be tough - alt-rock/rock-and-roll is in a sort of lull now. But that doesn’t take away from the influence that the big names have had, bands like Weezer, Counting Crows, and REM, but they haven’t put out any solid new material in a while or are moving on. This lull in the genre, however, made Jared Cohen’s EP a very pleasant surprise. Counting Down The Years is a strong release from the San Francisco based musician, featuring songs that offer a classic and full-bodied feel, spanning genres like rock-and-roll, folk, to pop-rock.
“Different Plans” is a track that, if it weren’t for Cohen’s vocal style, I would’ve thought came off an early Weezer release (a band that Cohen credits as an influence). The simplicity of it all – the time signature, the lyrics, the power chords and distorted guitar solos, the drums – it all fits together to make one of the catchiest and most cohesive songs on the EP. This is definitely an area where Cohen can write. On the other hand, “Know Better” is a simple and steady finger-picked tune that plays to its folky charm, and is critical to pulling off the kind of honesty needed for ‘woe is me’ lyrics about the hardships of life for twenty-somethings; “…but nothing ever works out in the end, or at least I feel better when I think that’s how it is…I should know better by now”. It’s short and simple, and Cohen tones everything down to let his voice and story telling take over, creating what I think is the most authentic-sounding song on the release.
Instrumentally, “The Years” sounds like it could have been written by one of the early 2000 alt-rock bands, like Lifehouse, 3 Doors Down, or the like. With some slow and melancholic guitar backing him, Cohen opens the track singing: “This sounds like something I would have written in high school or my early twenties; Singing about some pretty girl…But the jokes on them ‘cause they’re all pregnant now…So I guess that means I’m behind them, but I don’t feel like I’m missing anything” – but it ends up sounding more like the conversation we’ve all had with our reunited high school friends.
It’s too obvious what sort of vibe he’s going for: the sort of adolescent lack of direction, the pressure of growing into an adult. Next to the sobering and expansive feeling that the guitar and drums in the latter half of the track, I’m left wishing the lyrics reflected them more accurately, but they feel ‘small’ compared to them. The theme is certainly relatable and worthy of being explored, and with some fine-tuning it can easily match up next to the rest of the song, rather than feeling underdeveloped and distracting from it.
Throughout Counting Down The Years, Cohen clearly showcases the musical skill and charisma to write stripped down emotional ballads in the same vein as the Counting Crow’s 1999 “Colorblind” (indeed, Cohen’s singing style and voice can sound strikingly similar to frontman Adam Duritz), and also the louder and powerful songs that reach all the way to Weezer’s early material. The EP shows well-crafted songs and great promise, but I’m still left at the end wishing that Cohen explored the theme to a greater and more personal depth, at least lyrically, and took a few more chances instrumentally. With a full-length release, however, I’m very excited to see what direction Cohen decides to take his talents.
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