Solo projects are quite often a hit and miss affair at the best of times. The idea of a bassist from a reasonably functional grunge tinted band (in this case Nine Black Alps) creating something even barely worthwhile is at best, the stuff of tranquilized fanciful dreaming. To be perfectly honest, the very idea of a bassist’s solo project is usually the stuff of nightmares. Martin Cohen however is going someway to bucking the trend of godawful bassist folly and with Milk Maid has come up with an album that is at times a pretty intriguing proposition.
Recorded in Cohen’s flat, Yucca is a fuzzy ball of lo-fi songs that for the most part contain just enough melody to almost be considered pop songs. Opening up with Such Fun, Milk Maid instantly immerses the listener in a narcotic fug. There’s a sizeable nod to The Stooges and the simplistic rock ‘n roll bombast of New York Dolls on show. The rough production, such as it is, almost succeeds in obscuring any flailing limbs of a tune. Armed with the knowledge that these songs were recorded at Cohen’s home instantly gives pause for thought as images of a black walled filthy bed-sit strewn with dirty plates and unwashed undergarments spring readily to mind.
Can’t You See moves away from the rough edged Rock barrage of Such Fun and heads off into slightly gentler singer-songwriter territory. The production ensures that Cohen’s voice is hidden behind the distorted thrum of the guitars, but when he does manage to make himself audible, there’s that undeniable slacker drawl in his delivery that points directly back to his Grunge influences. However, there’s still enough of a tune poking through to elevate the song beyond an introspective surrender.
Occasionally Cohen steps out from behind the veil of distortion and for those brief moments the album takes a turn into sunnier climes. Girl for example is a straight forward paean to an American girl that manages to conjure up a dreamy feel without the need for obscuring retro production. California Dreaming? Very Nearly.
For the most part it’s fair to say that Milk Maid worship at the feet of the filthy altar of Rock. Oh! pinches its rhythm directly from Velvet Undergroundand initially seems to be a barely conscious meander. Once it hits the chorus everything changes, and the darker edges of the song are filled with a glorious shaft of light. It’s a fine piece of songwriting trickery.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Yucca is the considerable debt it owes to the past. Barely a song goes by where an i-spy book of musical influences couldn’t be rapidly filled in. The basic production coupled with the opiate cloud that hangs over most of these songs points towards the Velvets and more obviously The Jesus And Mary Chain. Not Me exhumes The Ramones (a lengthy job these days) before swamping everything in a blitzkrieg of exhilarating white noise. Then there’s Kill Me Again which manages to sound a little like Buddy Holly being fed through a wood chipper. Sad Song re-examines New York Dolls, chucks a bit of Rolling Stones into the mix for additional excess and crushes the whole lot under that un-refined production once again.
While there’s nothing particularly wrong with looking to the past for influences, Yucca struggles at times beneath the weight of those it seeks to emulate. This is something of a shame, because Cohen is clearly a rather gifted songwriter in his own right, and not the “look back bore” that many of these songs occasionally imply. There’s talent here for sure, and hopefully it will move from the twin shadows of the past and lo-fi production soon.