Pink Keys is the fourth solo album in five years from NY artist Alice Cohen, yet curiously it’s also the second in a matter of months. The eight-track Wild Vines and Tenement Shrines was an under-the-radar release back in February. Those who are familiar know that Cohen is something of a multi-talented performer, having made her name in the ’80s as singer and keyboard player with new wavers The Vels and then again in the ’90s with Die Monster Die. She’s also known for her artwork and stop-motion animation for music videos, and on Pink Keys, the painter in her comes across clearly. Her use of keys and synths creates a sweep and flow that is the musical equivalent of a collage.
There’s a retro feel to much of this record. Opener Cascading Keys could be straight out of the ’80s with a vintage Linn drum machine underpinning the songs fast-flowing melody lines that reflect its title. The synth work on the meandering Mauve Mood and looping instrumental The Locksmith could be from the hands of legendary progger Rick Wakeman. Elsewhere, the gentle, Eastern-inflected instrumental The Lacemaker mixes in pleasingly with the vocal tracks. Cohens voice shimmers sweetly throughout but blends a bit too finely with the instruments, preventing her lyrics from standing out and becoming fully memorable. Instead, the music washes over the listener, so relaxing that one absorbs the whole rather than the parts. Its a pleasant experience, but one that occasionally loses distinction.
Arguably the strongest song here is the compelling La Fete Etrange. A haunting synth melody line is looped and layered, taking on the resonance of pealing bells as it builds until dying away in a familiar line of four descending chords. The album closes with the atmospheric ballad The Color of the Sea, brimful of natural imagery that gives it a cinematic sweep.
Pink Keys was recorded at home by Cohen, with the artist contributing most of the vocal and instrumental work with the aid of a few hipster guests. Decorated with circular melodies, its an album for listening, relaxing, and losing yourself, while maybe unlocking some secrets along the way.
Essential Tracks: La Fete Etrange