Henry Kohen has been the subject of many a pinched cheek from fawning admirers. Being the age that he is (for perspective, Jurassic Park predates him), it’s easy for us to latch onto. Sure, it’s an inevitability of human wiring, but it feels unnecessarily condescending – the prowess of Mylets is entirely different to, say, a 3 year old ukuleleist making the rounds on YouTube, similarly lauded by the people as a whizzkid prodigy. It seems disparaging for Kohen to receive the same belly-rub chin-scratch treatment. I’d not want to direct attention away from what must be a considerable personal and technical achievement: Arizona is effectively the sum of his on-going tenure as an inhabitant of Sargent House, and it is remarkable, age notwithstanding.
For the uninitiated, Mylets is a human-shaped sound factory, assuming the roles of four or five musicians at once. Every note that you hear and all that’s in between has been placed and played by him, and meticulously so – Kohen isn’t just piling layer upon layer so as to compensate for only having four limbs. It’s not until you watch a live clip that you really see all of the complexities at work. He flits about the stage, his feet tapping against the myriad of pedals before him with the same tenacity as a panicked layman sat at the control panel of a rapidly descending passenger plane, and he punches out an intricate electronic drum beat and swings his guitar around just in time to throw a couple more vital notes into the fray. He doesn’t pause to breathe, nor allow any loop the chance to stagnate. Everything is played and sampled there and then, and his malleability allows him to dance around the rare mistakes like they were supposed to be there all along.
Considering the ferocity of the Mylets live experience and its organic unity, committing it all to tape flirts dangerously with dilution – gone is the visual nectar of frenzy, the awe placated – but fortunately, Arizona as a recorded work sheds none of the live show’s winsome factors, at the same time as significantly building on the firm foundations provided by 2013’s Retcon. Forget for a moment that this is the labour of one man, and it more than holds up as a punchy package of bewitching guitar rock from a full band. And, importantly for a record that falls short of thirty minutes, it’s reasonable to assume that Kohen’s extreme fine-tuning extends to the way in which it was structured. With the opener and lead single ‘Trembling Hands‘, you have a rattled cage and determined, if standalone, deviation from math rock tinkering. It thrives voraciously on a powerful, gravelled chorus and insatiable octave riffs, painting an imposing shadow behind the humble frame of Kohen before its flames dwindle into the twinkling embers of ‘Arizona’. From there, the album bounces from track to track, each never exceeding four minutes, but that badass kick-start rouses an air of significance – with it, the succeeding tracks are given extra dimensions by way of contrast.
You’ve ‘Honeypot’, smirking as it toys with your preconceptions. It very knowingly curdles your legs with a lopsided rhythm, and the potholed vocal melody adds to the disorientation to such a degree that when it abruptly stops, you’re left with the same lurched stomach a ditch in the road would cause. ‘Ampersand’ gradually collates minimalist muted guitar fragments into a bustling nest that, as soon as the final twig is placed with pinpoint precision, is hurled into the wind current and replaced with tenacious, up-tempo yells and jarring guitar strikes. Such hurry and haste whips up a sense of spontaneity that you don’t often get with looped music. Mylets emphatically chooses not to build the reverberated soundscapes that looped guitars are often used for and craft so well, instead commanding his pedals to revel in their untapped potential of variety.
I wouldn’t want to understate the importance of Kohen’s age – it’s assuredly a happy marvel that he’s accomplished so much, and to continue watching him go from strength to strength will be one of independent music’s many rewards. He has the luxury of time working with him to further siphon the absurdly unique from his equipment. But more than that, it’s his grasp on what makes music so blood-rushingly interesting that will keep him in good stead, and if he keeps his feet on his many effects pedals, they’ll never have to touch the ground.