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Family & Friends Alfred Soto , August 3rd, 2011 10:32

Check out why hip-hop artist David Cohn is destined for cult stardom. "Ever since I lost my job, I started a blog / It's going so great / It's about the ins and outs of the perfect date," a self-satisfied fool tells us in 'California', one of eleven cuts in which Cohn, using the moniker Serengeti, dramatizes life in the post-Obama age: living under reduced circumstances, hounded by thwarted ambition, and finding pleasure where we can. The album title speaks a literal truth—family and friends are all he's got, and damn it if, like life, he doesn't deserve better.

Listeners need know nothing about Cohn's biography to note the motif animating Family and Friends: the realization that your loved ones fuck you up as badly as you do by your lonesome self. Numbing yourself with riesling, among other things, is another. On 'Long Ears', our hero would rather chill out by himself at the zoo but he's gotta watch his heroin-addict dad, and join him too, no doubt. What gives Family and Friends its power is the slippage between distance and immersion. Does Cohn expect us to admire his characters for complaining and muttering homilies into mirrors or is he having a laugh at their expense? If they didn't choose to enact these psychodramas by themselves the answer would be clearer. We'll know on the next album.

When the album stops playing the temptation to categorize Family and Friends as a literate Streets project or Buck 65 with a flair for topic sentences is irresistible. Only one song exceeds the five-minute mark, though, and most are just over two minutes, so boredom isn't a problem. Cohn's flair for internal rhymes generates some suspense; he takes his cues from an aural bricolage which often just sit there like the kinds of things a shrewd amateur might program on a home keyboard. Luckily the beats and backdrops by Owen Ashworth and WHY's Yoni Wolf —deflated percussion here, keyboard ripples there, and a respect for voice and silence everywhere, sprinkled with welcome flourishes like, say, a scratchy fiddle—support the kinds of stories for which folk rock would expect to serve as a genre correlative. And don't forget that topic sentences serve a rhetorical purpose too: they impose precision. On 'PPMD' Cohn states/raps, "Over 30 / false hopes / things don't magically appear / they stay the same," supported by a mournful, buzzing two-note synth hook and beat swiped from Radiohead's 'Idioteque', and the song stops registering as a demo. These filigrees work as counterpoint too: the sax sample anchoring Cohn's "I'm not complain'"s in 'Flutes' sure sounds like complaining; note too the furious acoustic strumming and stoned white guy whining "Reinvent yourself!" which serve as the chorus for the aforementioned would-be slacker anthem 'California'.

Imagine the song on one of Beck's early 90s mixtapes—Cohn is another soulsucking jerk cobbling together a quasi-autobiography and making it rhyme.