Itasca is the musical identity of Los Angeles-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kayla Cohen. Just as the name itself is ambiguous—a 19th-century pseudo-Ojibwe place name and portmanteau of the Latin words for “truth” (veritas) and “head” (caput)—so too is Cohen’s musical project mutable and multivalent: fundamentally unconcerned with genre, but richly allusive of the hermetic worlds of private-press canyon-cult mystics and East Coast noiseniks alike.
Cohen, who grew up in New York state near the Hudson River, moved from Brooklyn to L.A. in 2011. Though she began playing guitar at age thirteen, her songwriting idiom emerged gradually from her longstanding noise and drone practice. Her out-of-time recordings as Itasca—refined over the course of several releases, including the acclaimed 2014 LP Unmoored by the Wind (New Images)—reflects both this dislocated geography and her Janus-faced gaze towards both baroque, acid folk-inflected songcraft and deconstructive, textural sonics.
Though deeply informed by the mythology and iconography of the modern American desert West, Cohen likewise finds kinship with a lineage of English iconoclasts such as Michael Chapman and Bridget St John. Her adept fingerstyle guitar work—nimble but unshowy, always at the service of framing her plaintively unspooling modal progressions and gorgeous, moonlit voice—centers Itasca’s melancholy pastorales in a hazy, heat-mirage space equally suggestive of familiarity and distance, community and anomie.
Open to Chance, Itasca’s 2016 album on Paradise of Bachelors is her first to feature the full band with whom she currently records and tours, including pedal steel player and frequent collaborator Dave McPeters, drummer Coleman Guyon (and occasionally Kacey Johansing), and bassist and vocalist Julia Nowak.
- Mind Over Mirrors: Undying Color Release Day + Our First 100 Days.
- Itasca: Open to Chance Release Day.
- Stream Itasca’s Album Open to Chance.
- Twitter: @kaylacohen
- North American booking: contact artist
- International booking: Erin Coleman, Paper and Iron
This feeling that we, as listeners, have been granted access into Itasca’s private inner sanctum is what helps give [Cohen’s music] its quiet gravity, and her ample instrumental skills and deft songcraft make this invitation well worth your while.
– Matthew Murphy, Pitchfork
Gorgeous acid folk reverie… A heady slice of lysergic ladies of the canyon, with the feel of tropical microdots that dominated the These Trails and Linda Perhacs sides given a slightly more baroque dream-time feel. Some of the guitar stylings have the kind of courtly appeal of Current 93 circa Of Ruine Or Some Blazing Starre, but when she gets into more complex vortices of steel strings she comes over like Robbie Basho circa Basho Sings. This one came out of nowhere and knocked us sideways.
– David Keenan, for Volcanic Tongue
The image of the solitary songwriter strumming away and singing her songs promises transparency, but a chief virtue of Itasca’s Unmoored By The Wind is that it doesn’t give up its secrets too easily.
– Bill Meyer, The Wire
Itasca shows a kind of total fluidity of delivery, where she sings anything she sings and the music slips and flows around her. Put it this way: once there was a song called “Walking In The Rain,” and that’s her style of playing now, too. The opening interlude and the instrumental passages here recall guitarist Peter Walker in contemplation—sharp, deliberate, suggestive in its minimalism—and, well, that’s Cohen’s voice, too, except for the sharp part. She’s more agile than Baier but just as direct.
– Chris Ziegler, LA Record