Long before he started his electronic project Chants in 2010, Madison-based musician Jordan Cohen was trained as a jazz drummer. He still plays drums in jazz outfits, including the New Orleans-style Mama Digdown’s Brass Band, and if there’s one constant in Chants’ three albums and three EPs, it’s a devotion to syncopation and flat-out rhythmic irregularity. The project has its catchy and approachable moments, but none of them use four-on-the-floor jams beats or fully embrace the locked-in tidiness of sequencers and quantization.
That hasn’t changed even as Cohen has grown more interested in making music for the dancefloor. Last year’s The Zookeeper EP and the new Amethyst Dust EP veer away from the ambient leanings of Chants’ earlier releases, and put stomping, staggering, distorted percussion at the foreground. There’s still plenty of atmosphere to these two latest EPs, but it’s more fragmented and harsh, a world away from the eerie vocals and sublimely morose synth melodies of 2012’s Night After EP. On the four-track Amethyst Dust, the only respite from the pummeling comes in the swirling middle of the third track, “Whole World Crumble.” Cohen envisions Amethyst Dust as something DJs can play a track from to create a dramatic moment in a set—”It’s almost not even meant to be listened to all the way through,” he says.
Cohen’s live setup has been evolving too—in the past he’s combined a sampler with live drums, but he’s leaning toward leaving the kit at home for Chants shows. His next Madison show as Chants is on April 1 at Art In, where he’ll be opening for Asumaya (another eccentric solo project from a drummer). We talked earlier this week, following the release of Amethyst Dust.