Bruce Cohen is a musician and composer hailing from Philadelphia, with an interesting musical background. He was a founding member and keyboard player in The Reds who have played live with bands like The Police, Blondie, The Ramones and Public Image, amongst others. They have also released several successful albums.
As a solo artist, Bruce has been releasing material since 2009, and his music is essentially ambient electronica with elements of funk and acid house. He regards his influences as Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and Klaus Schulze. This twelve track album, Five BC, is a continuation in a series of albums that started with his debut, One BC.
It starts with the chilled out acid house of Groovatronic, based around a punchy ‘four to the floor’ kick drum and syncopated, exotic percussion. Throughout the album, Cohen incorporates elements of tribal Latin and African style rhythms to great effect. The synths are subtle and float across the sonic spectrum, having a mesmeric effect. They are layered skilfully across the duration of the track, so that they are continually metamorphosing.
Kaiju is a distinct contrast, a loping, almost hip hop-esque beat as the backdrop for an instantly memorable high end synth riff, counterpointed by a rumbling dub synth bass. It sounds so modern that it could be straight from the production house of hip hop producers like Dr. Dre or Jay-Z. Once again, the track builds gradually across its six minute duration, with some wild synths towards the end.
Saturn Drift, as the title suggests, is a spaced out Brian Eno-style ambient instrumental. Cohen conjures up a magical soundscape that transports you as a listener and by the end you feel you are indeed orbiting Saturn. A sax-like synth melody meanders across the sonic haze, and the sense of displaced time is compelling.
Push Play is much more close to traditional electronica. Like Groovatronic, it’s based around a house beat with inventive use of percussion. The bassline has a very addictive melody, while circular synth patterns in the high end draw you in further. The final minute is a kaleidoscopic swirl of sonic Technicolor.
Silence is another ambient piece that takes you to distant realms in your imagination, Cohen weaving a potent spell with amorphous synths circling and swirling. The following Electric Samba is an unexpected contrast, an uptempo, funky groove that seems tailor made for the dance floor and recalls the Balearic house era of the 1990’s. The percussion patterns have an internal melody that grips the ear and the beat is simply irresistible. My personal favourite on the album.
Somber is an interesting blend of the two disparate styles, halfway between ambient and house, with a magical sounding melody interweaving amongst pulsing chordal synths. The contrasts keep coming with the hugely funky breakbeat funk of What Is It, which grabs you from its first seconds. A pitch shifted keyboard works in a pleasingly angular way to the sparse but effective Jah Wobble-esque bassline. Another highlight.
On The Road is different once more; a skittish, industrial beat is the bedrock for a moody low end synth while melodic fractals splinter and evolve across five and a half minutes in a hypnotic fashion. Sunday is half the length and the most sparse piece here, simply a low cello-like synth carving out a solemn, hymnal melody. Haunting.
No One takes us back into the world of exotic rhythm, an intricate beat full of percussive subtleties that get the top tapping. Gradually, a haze of synths take centre stage, conjuring an enigmatic vibe. The final track Requiem feels like a continuation, perhaps by design. It’s another ambient piece and the most mystical track on the album. For me, it gave me that same sense of quiet awe you might feel under a clear night sky and it leaves the listener feeling somewhat elated, a satisfying conclusion to a musical odyssey.
Overall, this album is a fascinating blend of eclectic styles within the electronica genre. Bruce Cohen has learned to master writing both the atmospheric ambient pieces and the uptempo tracks that employ elements of house and funk, as well as the rhythms of world music from different cultures. The result is an album full of twists and turns, inventive touches and transcendent moments. Ideal for those looking for the more sophisticated end of electronica, Bruce Cohen deserves recognition as a class act in his field and this album should help bring him to a wider audience.