[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Until recently, it was tricky to quantify Alejandro Cohen's contributions to the L.A. underground-music world. He's a Swiss army knife of an artist — the sort of indispensable but underpublicized figure who inevitably helps form the dorsal column of any vibrant art scene.
The Buenos Aires-raised Cohen is foremost a musician, initially as half of Languis, a fondly remembered Eastside band that toiled for a decade starting in the late '90s. He is the artist as selector: a DJ at online radio shrine Dublab (where he's also general manager), a curator of Argentine post-punk compilations and the creator of audiovisual tributes to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. He's also a composer of original scores for PBS programs and documentaries, and a connector who is responsible for dozens of inspired interactions between seemingly far-flung music worlds.
But after the release of last month's Pharaohs, the eponymous full-length debut from the band he started with Sam Cooper, Cohen has produced something that deserves to resonate well past Western Avenue. Issued by the impeccable 100% Silk imprint, Pharoahs is a quintessential late-night L.A. driving record. It's a freeway glide full of acid house, disco, modern funk, synthesizer pop and minimal techno — one of two essential local dance records to prepare you for the start of summer (alongside Classixx's Hanging Gardens).
“We weren't interested in trying to reinvent the wheel. Dublab gets sent so many records that claim to have a 'groundbreaking new sound.' How about just doing something well?” Cohen says at Dublab's headquarters, a spot that blurs the boundary between office and art space, with murals, live DJs mixing and enough CDs and vinyl lying around to rival most indie record stores.
He's 38 but still boyish-looking — clean-shaven, with a mop of straight black hair, large plastic glasses and a Love and Rockets T-shirt. “We just wanted to make fun pop music.”
That's a line that you hear often from musicians in 2013. Genre divisions are hazy. Art and fun are no longer mutually exclusive ideas. The line between underground and mainstream is often a viral video. Cohen knows that Pharaohs won't supplant Baauer anytime soon, but their record's perpetual groove feels like the sort of thing that could have topped the dance charts in Spain, circa 1991. Pitchfork called it “sublime” and “effortless.” Fader called it the “perfect record to kick off the weekend.”
“A lot of our sound comes from buying old, cheap records in a bin and rediscovering them,” Cohen says. “You could probably argue the next big trend is the 99-cent record.”
Cohen's triumph is partially communal, not just through his fellow Pharaohs collaborators but via the extended Dublab lab rats. If you wonder why L.A. music is experiencing a creative renaissance, it's partly because of institutions like this, which have incubated broader ideas and rediscovered and recombined old forms.
“It's about the hunger to learn more and to be able to connect the dots,” says Cohen, who lives in Eagle Rock. “I love film and literature, but music is what moves me in the morning. It's what gives me goose bumps.”
Maybe maturity is the realization that one doesn't always need to be serious to cause goose bumps. Pharoahs is a record unbuttoned just enough. It is very much of a time and place yet distinctly removed from any allegiance to the present. It might be Cohen's best contribution yet; sometimes it takes 15 years to be a part of something timeless.