Stepping away once again from her band Gun Outfit, Kayla Cohen found herself in rural New Mexico. Writing and conceiving of Spring, her second album as Itasca, Cohen was moved by the dramatic landscape surrounding her in the Southwest, aesthetically a far cry from her usual stomping ground of Los Angeles. Much like the starkly beautiful environment she came to call home for six months, Spring is meditative and solitary, almost aspirational for what it represents — a reprieve from the chaos of everyday life.
Enhanced with subtle hints of pedal steel, strings, and piano, Spring is mainly just Cohen and her guitar, and of course, the desert. But the way she strums her guitar can make it sound like an entire orchestra on its own. “Bess’s Dance” combines that dreamy strumming with a glimpse into the history Cohen immersed herself in while creating Spring. Basket weaving and local textiles and sun-faded reds and browns are vivid details that help build this world and draw us into it. “Lily” takes us with Cohen as she drives the vast and endless highway between Los Angeles and New Mexico until her eyes begin playing tricks on her. “Cornsilk” allows us to smell the smoky, fragrant canyon hikes, and to imagine the sparkling, rocky waters that inspired Cohen. These minimalist songs listen like poetry, and look like stunning landscapes.
There is no affect or put-on in Cohen’s voice. Just a pure, dreamy softness that never goes beyond where it needs to. We hear the faint, heady influence of Cohen’s former labelmate Steve Gunn in the way she follows her vocals wherever they take her, almost hypnotized, surrendering to the occasional lovely, unexpected meander. This, coupled with pastoral arrangements that evoke her rural, adobe-flecked hideaway, make Spring an especially atmospheric work, essential to its time and place.