Brooklyn-based musician Alex Cohen’s experimental pop project Pema is reaching a new pinnacle in its existence with this week’s release of the full-length album Bad Habits. Not only has Pema’s sound developed into something slightly different than with previous releases – including 2016’s Doublethink -, but this release marks the first of hers that was entirely self-produced, with the majority of it recorded and arranged in her bedroom. This – if nothing else – serves to show her incredible musicianship and creative abilities. An interesting aspect of note is also that – while her previous releases don’t seem to have a pattern hidden in the titles – each of the ten songs on this compilation are comprised of a simple, single word, with at most two syllables. Each title allows the listener to feel like they can relate off the bat, before the music even has a chance to reach their eardrums. Titles like “Clench”, “Hustle”, and “Bicker” are enticing in that regard, as our curiosity of her take on each subject draws us directly into the theme of the album itself. But that’s not where the magic ends.
From the soulful, slow rhythms of first track “Depend”, through the glittering, tribal sounds of “Purge”, all the way through 80s inspired last track “Run”, Bad Habits will envelope its listener in the perfect glistening soundscape for summertime. Pema’s vocal range is perhaps what is most notable, at times light as a feather to perfectly complement her compositions. Layers of instrumentals and interesting tweaks in production make the majority of the album something almost theatrical.
In songs like second track “Tempt”, she plays with the “What if?” scenarios that we all too often ask ourselves when approaching any type of new relationship. And though the repetition of the line “Is it too late now?” comes off a bit obsessive, it is with third track “Obsess” that the bass comes through to sincerely make the soundscape slightly darker than its predecessors. The vocals bring the mood of the song up a bit, allowing you more of a kaleidoscope of sound to fall into as you listen to her whispers of obsession on repeat. As noted, “Purge” has a largely primal feel to it from the beginning, perhaps brought on by unique way she blends the bassline with synth. By the end of the 5:12 track, there is an added layer of sound that also makes it all feel otherworldly, smooth sax truly making this a genre-blending experience.
“Cry” holds its own as a dance track, though the lyrics themselves aren’t the most vibrant. “Avoid” begins with warped vocals, a layering in to sound as though there is an ensemble choir singing with her, while “Bicker” plays more with percussion and staccato notes, creating almost a sense of urgency in the soundscape. The track we were most curious about upon reading the tracklisting, “Clench”, has an Imogen Heap feel to it, and we’re absolutely smitten by it in its entirety. Ninth track “Hustle” has a very soulful, jazzy feel to it, the way she plays with staccato notes and dissonance is nothing if not captivating. Pema rounds Bad Habits out will with last track “Run”, which – as addressed before – is perhaps the most 80s influenced of the album.
From beginning to end, Bad Habits gives us perfect outdoor, summertime festival vibes. At the very least, this album belongs on your warm weather playlists. So prep for your party hosting with a little more Pema in your life!