Itasca’s sublime singer-songwriter sounds will warm your heart on Spring | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Itasca’s sublime singer-songwriter sounds will warm your heart on Spring 

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click to enlarge Itasca


Ella Andersson

Under the name Itasca, Kayla Cohen has released some of the most sublime under-the-radar singer-songwriter sounds of the decade. As a teenager, Cohen picked up the guitar to explore the experimental strains of music she liked, and soon her own tunes began to bubble to the surface. In 2012, she moved from New York to Los Angeles and released her first cassette, Grace Riders on the Road, which showcases her breezy, sepia-toned vibrations in sparse, mostly instrumental pieces that occasionally veer into fuzzy psychedelic drones. She found her niche on 2014’s Unmoored by the Wind, bringing dreamy, melancholic melodies to the forefront in a style that recalls 70s German downer-folk chanteuse Sibylle Baier. The following year, Cohen put out an all-instrumental cassette of subtle acoustic-guitar ruminations, Ann’s Tradition, and in 2016 she made her full-band debut with Open to Chance—released on killing-it label Paradise of Bachelors. Cohen’s laconic vision blossoms on the full-band album: she comes across like a wisened, weary troubadour against a backdrop of drums and pedal-steel guitar, and her material echoes the mellow, introspective Topanga/Laurel Canyon sound of early 70s songwriters such as Judee Sill, Carole King, and Joni Mitchell. Cohen wrote her latest album, Spring (out November 1), in an adobe house in rural New Mexico, and though it’s loosely based on her experiences living in the southwest, it features contributions from several Chicago musicians, including Cooper Crain (of Bitchin Bajas and Cave) and Jim Elkington (who adds string arrangements). Her Bandcamp page describes the album as “atmospheric,” “tranquil,” and “sun-dappled,” and I can think of no better terms to describe the gorgeously subtle and yearning “Blue Spring” and “Only a Traveler”—these are arguably Cohen’s strongest songs yet. Onstage she plays her hushed music as quietly as it demands, confining her showiness to the fabulous 70s trousers she always seems to wear—this sure-to-be intimate performance should warm our already winter-frozen souls.   v

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