Album Review: Alex Vargas – Cohere
Released 31st March 2017
Words: Leander Hobbs
Cohere is a remarkable album, difficult to categorize with its big-band production complete with jazz-styled orchestra and rousing choral vocals that would not be out of place in a house of God. Yet also delicate and simplistic, enabling Alex’s full and rich vocal range to speak for itself.
To hear it is to be in the presence of the divine with musical interludes such as Cohere parts one, two and three offered up almost as a prayer, a play of sound and silence that ebbs and flows like the breath. These interludes are punctured by 13 longer tracks, each one a stand-out single in its own right that act as the driving pulse. The overall effect is a living entity that cohesively moves together despite many changes in pace and style.
Sweet Abandon is the first full track of the album and its desolation is all encompassing. It reminds me of the first time I heard Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree or Bowie’s Black Star album so complete is its sense of loneliness, emotional rawness and in the end acceptance. In fact it took some time for me to recognise Alex Vargas’ vocals so different is this track to anything he has produced before.
And then the breath out, Inclosure, a track more of a return to form for Alex with his trademark combination of contagious hooks and synthpop backing that I’m sure will make this an instant pop anthem. It is a stark contrast to the previous track and that Alex can pull off such a contrast only serves to demonstrate the growing versatility and maturity of his writing and performance.
When I read that Higher Love, the next track on the album was going to be the soundtrack for the new Diesel advert I had mixed feelings. I wondered if such a commercialism had any place in an album that at its start felt like an exercise of catharsis. However the track’s sexy, almost Latin feel is in keeping, although I am not sure how Alex has quite pulled this off. I guess it comes down to honesty, something that is important throughout the album – the song just feels true. I wonder though perhaps if Alex knew that this comparison might be drawn given that the next thumping track is craftily called Rogue and talks of our ‘senses being on overload’. A mere coincidence or demonstration of structural playfulness?
The next two tracks on the album, Tidal and Renegade again allow Alex to fall back on his pop roots whilst still pushing his musical boundaries. I love the use of the Jazz improv. on Renegrade; its clever without being overstated and ties the two records’ pop elements together with the big-band quality of the interludes, so that the change in pace feels more subtle and flowing. By the time we reach Cohere part two, the draw for breath feels natural and we are left to simply revel in Alex’s vocals that take on an almost Gregory Porter tonal quality.
7 sins was the first single released from the album and received high praise. It’s a great pop song but if you’ve only heard this one track you are missing out on much of Alex Vargas’s depth and I would urge you to hear it again within the context of the full album.
I See a Light is another of Cohere’s cleverly woven interludes and whilst short it is probably my favourite track off the album. It is stripped of everything but Alex Vargas and his guitar and has a fragility to it that is perhaps closer to the artist’s self-professed ‘difficulty of the album’ than the bravado of the anthemic pop songs such as the instantly memorable and confident Indivisible and Don’t Want to Dance.
By the time then (and it’s a good length album of almost an hour) we get to the End Game you get the sense that Alex is just relieved to have finally disgorged this living, breathing entity from his body. End Game brings us full circle, combining all that has gone before both in terms of music and that clever use of dramatic silence to quash any ideas that Alex Vargas is just a pop star. Cohere is a triumph as much for Alex as all those that contributed to the making of it. It is indeed cohere without being conformed and with a huge European tour planned I am intrigued to see how Alex pulls this off live. If it comes anywhere near to the intensity of the album the audience will leave, as I leave this review, wondering what next for Alex Vargas.