Pleasure BoyCalifornian singer-songwriter Hannah Cohen’s debut album “Child Bride” was released in 2012 and probably passed you by. “Pleasure Boy”, its follow-up, may not be the most eagerly anticipated release of 2015 but to let it slip under the radar unheard would be a crying shame. Where “Child Bride” was predominantly acoustic, withdrawn and reflective, Hannah Cohen’s follow -up has an omnipresent and altogether darker hum to it which underscores the prettier tracks creating a welcome assertiveness whilst also benefiting from a sonic diversity not heard on her debut.

The theme of “Pleasure Boy” is romantic betrayal. Cohen has been clear that this concise, eight track album was born out of the debris of a bad breakup and the boy of the title, all fun but commitment-phobic, seemed to cause her considerable but not irreparable damage. Produced again by Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman, a musician in his own right  with collaborations with The National, Antony and the Johnsons and Martha Wainwright, the introduction of beats and a recurring synth-pop feel are satisfyingly immediate under his supervision. Classical arrangements, jazz and trip-hop also slip in and out of earshot and are anchored by Cohen’s skilled, subtle song writing.

I’ll Fake It” has a rogue synth line that will snake into your left ear; “Pleasure Boy” is an album that benefits from headphone use, dominant bass and a thumping, knocking percussion. ‘I know a good girl when I see one, and this one’s out for blood’ insists the pop chorus which is the album’s most blatant attempt at a commercial sound. “Watching You Fall” will inevitably draw Lana Del Rey comparisons: ‘I’m no kid, I’ll take you apart’ where Cohen’s voice is still disconcertingly coy and seductive and swaggering atop the rolling beats and Angelo Badalamenti style strings. “Take the Rest”, by comparison, with its wheezing synth hook, diverts into a warm and layered jazz-pop chorus.

Claremont Song” is deliciously lush and heartbreaking with woodwind instrumentation and every crucifying word audible: ‘sing me the most beautiful thing that you could ever sing, now hurt me more until nothing else hurts then walk away from me’. The flip side to this self-punishing ritual, and they effectively lie back-to-back in the album’s track listing, is the appropriately titled “Queen of Ice”. Cohen suspended by demonic and hushed noises-off, and a staccato sax riff adding further tension; this jazzy noir is indeed possessed, rebuilding strength maybe, but at what cost? “Baby” ends the album with an acoustic piano and guitar in a throwback to the more singular sound of her debut.

Structured more like an extended, EP as opposed to an album with its total running time at just over thirty minutes, “Pleasure Boy” could not afford to carry dead wood and Hannah Cohen has seen to it that any slack has been trimmed right back. Beautifully crafted, devastating on occasion but relatable and delivered with a supreme lightness of touch. Do yourself a favour and make certain you seek this one out.

Product DetailsI have a confession to make, I only own one Antony and the Johnsons album, “I Am A Bird Now”, and I’m sure that it’s the same one most people bought when he won the  Mercury Music Price in 2005. I’ve never really warmed to it; I admire it and acknowledge Antony’s talent but it’s been gathering dust next to Kate Bush’s “Arial” album (sorry Bush fanatics, I love her as much as you do but miss the pre 10 minute song cycle days).

My favourite Antony performance is probably his guest performance on Hercules and Love Affair’s   homage to late seventies, organic disco “Blind”. It was marvellous to hear that voice soar and be less reined in by more something more mainstream and accessible. For me there is a bagginess and heaviness in Antony’s work, musically and melodically, that I find tars everything with a very samey brush that leaves me feeling hung over. This album though, which reads like a greatest hits of tracks taken from Antony’s first 4 albums and mainly from his third album “The Crying Light”, succeeds in erasing that sonic fog.

Most of these songs here are transformed and oddly given it’s a live album (“Cut The World” being the only new studio track, quite brilliant with a genuinely shocking video) everything is more concentrated, bright and tight and beautiful; in this context Antony, accompanied by the faultless Danish National Chamber Orchestra, and his songs translate so clearly. “Another World” is a perfect example of a good song that was somewhat lost on “The Crying Light” album but  here it is reinvigorated and  undercut by an amazing tension provided by a note established by the orchestra within the new, 1 minute introduction and which is held until the 3 minute plus mark before it subtly changes key. I couldn’t figure out what exactly they had done to change the mood as it’s such a tiny adjustment but works marvellously at making a song about the world coming to an end appropriately unsettling.

Cripple and the Starfish” has always been an amazing song that sounds as though it were written for a David Lynch musical (‘I am very happy so please hit me’) and in its original setting was just strings and piano which it is here also but magnified by a hundred so that it’s become completely magical and otherworldly and is maybe the most beautiful performance from Antony on an album of many. Aside from the fact they are the shortest tracks, “Epilepsy is Dancing” and “Another World” in particular become concise, opaque and delightfully melodic lullabies that highlight Antony’s solid song writing skills and incredible booming and by turns soothing vocals. “I Fell I Love with a Dead Boy” now stabs your heart with a James Bond introduction with Antony asking ‘are you a boy or a girl? over and over and the relevance isn’t missed. It has a new danger and will break your heart in a way that the original doesn’t.

I still don’t like the morose when it should be uplifting “You Are My Sister”, surprisingly the only song from “I Am A Bird Now”, and the spoken monologue “Future Feminism” is lovely and captures the ethos of Antony and his vision but doesn’t need to be heard more than once or twice (I would have loved one more track, maybe one his brilliant cover versions of either Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” or Julee Cruise’s “Mysteries of Love”?) but apart from that this an incredible representation of Antony’s work to date and for me at least, as someone who has always struggled with this art up until now, a revelation.