When Alex Napping’s Alex Cohen listens to music these days, it’s less for lyrical and melodic content and more for groove.
For most of her life, she was focused on the former two (lyrics and melody), but she’s been paying more and more attention to the latter (groove), which is not an uncommon trend given millennial immediacy and contemporary consumption patterns.
However, what makes Alex Napping’s new album, “Mise En Place,” really worthy of a listen is the presence of all three.
“I don’t approach writing with ‘Oh, this is what I want people to pay attention to’. People should listen in the way that it grabs them. I really want people to evaluate the song as a whole,” Cohen told me over the phone last month.
Cohen wrote most of the songs for the album when she was in a relationship with a fellow musician who was always away on tour: “I was dating someone who was also a touring musician, and we got really serious right before they left on a really long tour. There was just like a lot of back and forth texting ... sorta sexting.”
The emotional rollercoaster of that long distance relationship is manifested especially in the song “You’ve Got Me,” which is a personal account of the “frenzied and overwhelming nature of sexual tension,” according to her.
But as the tumult became too difficult, Cohen said, the album became “my way of processing conflicts and internal conflicts that were causing problems in that relationship. At the time, I wanted the songs to be really reactionary. In hindsight, a lot of it was about trying to figure out how to balance personal life and ambitions.”
And to that, we can all relate.
One of the more notable songs on “Mise En Place” -- due in no small part to the striking music video that accompanies it -- is “Fault.”
Cohen, who is always interested in working with young female visual artists and filmmakers, reached out to director Eleanor Petry because Petry did a music video that she liked. Part performance art and part minimalist experimental film, the concept and execution of “Fault” are a testament to Cohen’s “struggle with an eating disorder and body image.”
The video’s strange beauty offers up a counter-intuitive intimacy that has its viewer superimpose his or her own face onto the plastic shadow that Cohen caresses. Whether metaphor for her own body image or a projection of oneself as an unknowable other, the video’s strength lies in its ability to evoke empathy.
Cohen's strength lies in her ability to anchor her band's feathered grooves with intelligent storytelling.
Brooklyn and Austin-based quartet Alex Napping play Soda Bar on Wednesday, Aug. 2. Tickets are available here or at the door.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. He now plays in the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.