Hand Habits & Chris Cohen

Johnny Brenda's Presents

Hand Habits & Chris Cohen

Tasha

Thu, April 11, 2019

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

$13.00

This event is 21 and over

All shows are 21+ Proper I.D. required for admission

Hand Habits - (Set time: 11:00 PM)
Hand Habits
Meg Duffy grew up in a small town in Upstate New York and they cut their teeth as a session guitarist and touring member of Kevin Morby’s band. The Hand Habits project emerged after Meg moved to Los Angeles; it started as a private songwriting outlet but soon evolved into a fully-fledged band with Meg at the helm. Hand Habits’ debut album, Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void), was released by Woodsist Records in 2017. The LP was entirely self-produced and recorded in Meg’s home during spare moments when they weren’t touring. Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) is a lush, homespun collection of folk songs that found Meg in an exploratory state as an artist moving out on their own for the first time.

Two years later, Hand Habits has returned with their sophomore album, placeholder, due out March 1st on Saddle Creek. To make this album, Meg chose to work in a studio and bring in collaborators, entrusting them with what had previously been a very personal creative process. Over the course of 12 tracks, Meg emerges with new confidence as both a bandleader and singer. This album is as tender and immediate as anything Meg’s ever written, but it’s also intensely focused and refined, the work of a meticulous musician ready to share their singular vision with the world.

The name placeholder stems from Meg’s fascination with the undefinable. Their songs serve as openings -- carved-out spaces waiting to be endowed with meaning. As a lyricist, Meg is drawn to the in-between, and the songs on this new album primarily confront the ways in which certain experiences can serve as a stepping stone on the road to self-discovery. “A big aspect of my songwriting and the way I move through the world depends on my relationships with people. The songs on placeholder are about accountability and forgiveness,” Meg says. “These are all real stories. I don’t fictionalize much.”

placeholder opens with the title track which on its surface is about a break-up. “Oh but I was just a placeholder/ A lesson to be learned,” a scorned Meg sings over a lush bed of twangy guitars. The blame quickly shifts, though, as Meg begins to take on partial responsibility for the partnership’s collapse: “Oh but now you are just a placeholder/ Blinded by desire/ Oh now you’re just a placeholder for someone wasting time.” Nothing in Meg’s world is as simple as black and white, right or wrong. An openness to nuance drives revelation in these songs.

“I value the closeness I share with my chosen family and I’m interested in queering relationships in my music. The relationships in my life expand my capacity to love because the lines between romance and friendship are often blurred,” Meg explains. The bonds Meg addresses on placeholder extend beyond the bounds of romance. On “can’t calm down,” Meg contemplates inherited trauma and questions whether it’s possible for someone to upend patterns of familial suffering. Relatedly, the closing track, “book on how to change part II,” refers back to Meg’s mother, who died when they were young. It’s a simultaneously aching and reassuring song, buoyed in part by a saxophone and Meg’s pointed harmonies that bring levity to painful subject matter.

Wildfires raged in Southern California when Meg wrote the bulk of placeholder, and the anxiety that came with living in L.A. during that time exposes itself throughout these songs. “Fire is such a powerful symbol. It’s destructive, but it’s also generative,” Meg says. References to that particular mindset abound on placeholder, most notably on the stand-out track “wildfire,” but it creeps into other songs, too. Separating side A from side B is a MIDI interlude titled “heat,” which finds Meg repeating, “Heat beyond the lines of passion,” a line borrowed from Jeanette Winterson’s novel The Passion. Later, on the sweet and yearning “what lovers do,” Meg likens desire to a glowing fire in a cadence that recalls Sharon Van Etten.

The flames that fuel placeholder occasionally billow out, but most often these songs are warm and comforting -- a space listeners can return to again and again when the outside world starts to overwhelm. Meg describes these songs as their most direct to date, crafted with clear intention, and unlike Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void), placeholder doesn’t meander. “It’s less of a submerged landscape and more a concise series of thoughts,” Meg explains. Instrumentally, placeholder can be situated alongside some of Meg’s folk-adjacent contemporaries like Angel Olsen or Big Thief, and the guitar work on this album proves that Meg continues to be one of the finest young musicians working today. placeholder is another entry in the Hand Habits songbook, but it’s also a valuable testament of our time. While placeholder inspires a sense of ease, simple questions rarely beget easy answers and Meg honors the indescribable joy and profound sorrow that comes with figuring things out, one step at a time.
Chris Cohen - (Set time: 10:00 PM)
Chris Cohen
Chris Cohen’s songs initially sound easy. They’re each tiny jewels that unfurl at a leisurely pace, but dig a little deeper and you’ll reach a melancholy core. His previous two albums — 2012’s Overgrown Path, and 2016’s As If Apart — were built from lush, blurry tracks that embedded themselves in your subconscious, like they’d always been there.

Chris Cohen, his third solo album, was written and recorded in his Lincoln Heights studio and at Tropico Beauties in Glendale, California over the course of the last two years. Cohen would sing melodies into his phone, fleshing them out on piano, then constructing songs around the melodies, and later, adding lyrics and other instrumentation with the help of Katy Davidson (Dear Nora), Luke Csehak (Happy Jawbone Family Band), Zach Phillips, and saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, among others. It is his most straightforward album yet, but it is also the conclusion of an unofficial cycle that began with Overgrown Path.

“My parents got divorced while I was making this record,” he says. “They were married for 53 years and my father spent most of his life in the closet, hiding both his sexual identity and various drug addictions. For me it was like being relieved of a great burden, like my life could finally begin.” It is this sense of truth and freedom that is woven into the very fabric of the record even as it grapples with complicated emotions. Indeed, a core truth of the record is what at first seems like a simple idea: “I hoped that by writing about what was closest to me at the time, I might share something of myself and where I came from,” Cohen says.

Though the album is undeniably part of the framework that made up his previous two records — Chris Cohen is also a thoughtful, accomplished meditation on life and family, backed by dusky instrumentation influenced by the late evening beauty of Pat Metheny’s Falcon and the Snowman soundtrack, and Thomas Dolby’s Golden Age of Wireless. It’s beautiful, but it’s also unflinching in its depiction of emotional turmoil.

On “Edit Out,” written in the wake of his parents’ divorce, Cohen examines his relationship with his father through devastatingly straightforward lyrics: “We were loved from afar / Everyone kept in the dark.” Though it’s a gorgeous song, the emotional weight is immense. A line like “people want a lot” carries a substantial amount of power, even if the initial intention of the lyric is not immediately clear.

But Chris Cohen is not a confessional record in the traditional sense. Instead of picking at open wounds, the album looks forward by embracing the past. Cohen’s father worked in the music industry, which exposed him as a child to not just the practical realities of a career in music — from a young age he saw plenty of recording studios and heard stories about musicians from his parents — but the more creative as well. “I had the sense that music was important and was something I could do,” he says.

On album opener, “Song They Play,” Cohen revisits his childhood, and his attempts to get his father’s attention. “I was mostly shielded from what was going on,” he says. “but had occasional glimpses into my parents’ complex world. When I sing these songs, I think it’s my way of communicating what I am unable to communicate in real life.”

None of these songs are abrasive or even aggressive. The soft drum fills on “Song They Play” comfort, and the guitar virtually glitters. Chris Cohen is a beautiful album about pain and loss but it’s also about accepting loss. Of the song “Green Eyes,” Cohen says “[It’s about] the men in my family and how they passed their worldview along to each other from great emotional distances. My father and grandfather were full of secrets and longing, which were communicated through everyday actions like driving a car or cooking a meal. We all wanted closeness, but never found it in each other.” This is a statement about a specific song, but it is also a statement about the album as a whole: Chris Cohen is not so much autobiographical as it is multi-generational.
Tasha - (Set time: 9:00 PM)
Tasha
On her debut album ALONE AT LAST, Tasha celebrates the radical political act of being exquisitely gentle with yourself. For years, the Chicago songwriter has dreamed hard of a better world—she's worked with the local racial justice organization BLACK YOUTH PROJECT 100 and has been on the front lines at protests around the city. But as she returned to the guitar, an instrument her mother first taught her to play when she was 15 years old, she began exploring the ways music can be a powerful force for healing. It might not fix a deeply broken world all by itself, but it can offer comfort and respite for those who, like her, dare to imagine a thriving future.

Citing Robin D. G. Kelley's book FREEDOM DREAMS as a foundational text to her artistic practice, she says, "BLACK FOLKS IMAGINATION INHERENTLY IS A RADICAL THING. IN A PLACE OF OPPRESSION AND COLONIZATION, THE ABILITY TO IMAGINE A FUTURE, IMAGINE MAGIC, IMAGINE SOMETHING BETTER, IS SUBVERSIVE. PEOPLE DON'T WANT YOU TO BE ABLE TO IMAGINE YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF THE PLACE THAT YOU'VE BEEN PUT." So she started asking: "WHAT DOES MY IMAGINATION MEAN TO ME AS A RADICAL THING?" Because Tasha's music has served her so profoundly as she's made it, she hopes it can be a source of strength for others, too. "I'M ONLY ABLE TO HANDLE THE WORLD BECAUSE I CAN WRITE THESE SONGS," she says, "SO I'D LIKE TO THINK THAT I HELP OTHER PEOPLE DEAL WITH THE WORLD FOR THE SAME REASON."

Across ALONE AT LAST'S seven tracks, Tasha sings mantras of hope and restoration over lush guitar lines inspired by the stylings of Nai Palm and Lianne La Havas—both artists who, like Tasha, opt for a sweetness in their playing over the masculinized bravado that often accompanies the electric guitar. "YOU/TAKE CARE OF YOUR LITTLE BODY," Tasha urges on the record's spoken word opener. On "KIND OF LOVE," she paints falling for someone as the gateway to a new world where anything's possible, and on "SOMETHING ABOUT THIS GIRL," she notes the profound strength that comes from vulnerability: "ALL HER SOFTNESS MAKE HER TOUGH."

"THESE SONGS ARE BED SONGS," Tasha says of Alone At Last. "SONGS ABOUT THE PLACE THAT ONE MIGHT GO WHEN THEY FINALLY NEED TO BE AWAY FROM WHATEVER IT IS THAT MIGHT BE CAUSING THEM STRESS OR ANXIETY OR SADNESS OR FEAR." In the world she conjures within the album, there's plenty of room to forge your own home where you can rejuvenate and heal—where you don't have to be a superhero and you don't have to save the world all by yourself, where nothing is expected of you except that you just be. It's the kind of album you can curl into after a hot summer day in the city: a powerful talisman in a demanding world, and a reminder that kindness toward the self can help unlock the way to a world a little more livable than this one.
Venue Information:
Johnny Brenda's
1201 N. Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA, 19125
http://www.johnnybrendas.com/