by Tim Draut
Cory Levinson (a.k.a. Kohwi) specializes in creating vibrant, psychedelic soundscapes of electronic bliss. His debut full length Hidden Trees is an absolute joy, which maintains a warm vibe of playful experimentalism. Sacrificing only the slightest possible amount of accessibility just to keep things fresh, Kohwi takes us to a strange and wonderful place we have never been before. His music doesn’t quite fit into any specific genre, in fact, I’m not even sure exactly how to describe it. Post-chillwave? Bedroom psych? Whatever you want to call it, it sounds fantastic.
A few of the songs on the album were previously released by Kohwi as singles (“Tide,” “Rem,” “Play With Me,”) and some are brand new such as the amazing opener “Reeling the Warmth.” The album even includes “Hobbies,” a gorgeous collaboration with Jordan Lee (a.k.a. Mutual Benefit) that quickly became one of my favorite songs of the year after it debuted on the Dope Mountain Fuck mixtape from Crash Symbols, a new cassette label run by Jheri Evans of Get Off The Coast. Coincidentally (or not), Jheri, being a collage extraordinaire, also did the wonderful cover art for Hidden Trees which complements the album beautifully.
The album shifts between bubbly sonic textures and pure melodic sunshine, occasionally surprising us with some delightful vocal harmonies on tracks such as “Tides” and the aforementioned “Hobbies.” Each track flows effortlessly into the next, so much so that they might actually be some of the most consistently seamless transitions I have heard all year. Before you know it, the album is over, and you want to hear it again.
One of the most exciting aspects of Kohwi’s music is how it transcends boundaries of classic pop structure by experimenting with new sounds. Instead of indulging himself with in-your-face, drugged-out psychedelia, Kohwi plays with different beats and samples to create an uplifting, far-out sound without alienating the sober members of his audience. Kohwi reaches the furthest with “Play With Me,” a dazzling excursion through Wonderland which miraculously avoids being creepy (well, almost.)
The final track, “Under Close,” slows down the pace a little, allowing the listener to defragment everything they have just experienced over the half-hour they spent absorbing the album, not entirely unlike a comedown from a psychedelic trip (not that I would know.) With the previous three tracks spinning you around in circles, “Under Close” gently sits you down and allows you to regain your balance.
Even with high expectations for Kohwi’s debut, Hidden Trees does not disappoint. Though playful, the album is hardly childish. One cannot deny the dedication behind exploring the outer limits of electronic music to find a sound that really hits home, which is exactly what this album does in an unlikely sort of way. Kohwi is setting the bar high for himself here, but rest assured we can expect more great things from this young Michigan artist in the future.
Hidden Trees is currently available on cassette from Wonder Beard Records. This edition is limited to 80 clear tapes which are set to ship mid-January, so be sure to pre-order your copy now because these are going to go fast.
If you can’t wait until then, the album is also available for name your own price download on Kohwi’s Bandcamp page. Give it a listen and be sure to contribute something if you like what you hear.