US - Florida - Full Moon 198 - 10/29/12
The Family Tree: The Roots
Ben Cooper for is sure one creative soul. He's one half of three
duos: Electric President (with Alex Kane), Unkle Stiltskin (with Corey Loop), and Iron Orchestra (with Emeral Cooper - his brother); he's in a three-piece called Mother's Basement (with Jeremiah 'Wudun' Johnson and Richard 'rickoLus'
Colado). Then we have his
one-man-show projects: Clone, Patients, and finally - his main project; Radical Face.
It's been more than five years since the last album from Radical Face, Ghost (2007). Since then he's been recording two albums with Electric President (their third album The Violent Blue came in early 2010).
In November 2010 he put out a digital-only EP called Touch The Sky (holding 6 songs, among them versions of "Welcome Home" and "Glory" off Ghost). This EP was meant to be an appetizer for his announced trilogy of albums entitled Family Tree; namely The Roots, for then to be followed (over the next few years) by The Branches and The Leaves. The Family Tree: The Roots was released in the US a year ago, but wasn't put out until this autumn in Europe. That's why we're reviewing this one-year-old. In prior to the release of The Roots Radical Face put out another digital EP (track by track), called The Family Tree: The Bastards, Volume One. Check this out yourself, as it's available for free from the Radical Face site.
So, this is much like a return to the themes which Ghost handled. Cooper compose music deep into the chamber pop melancholia. Not far away from Perfume Genius musically, or Andrew Bird, or even Sufjan Stevens - with less instrumentation and orchestration, that is. Cooper is an extremely talented [this record is written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Cooper - the only addition is his brother playing piano on one track] multi-instrumentalist, and a fascinating song-writer. The Roots is a 'family album' - revisiting his family's history and family stories. And, the tales told by Cooper is indeed of the dark kind. Dark, and enchanting. If this is biographical stuff, "Family Portrait" is an openly told story about his mother dying when giving birth to him, and a father ("...a dark bastard with a wooden heart...") descending into alcoholism, eventually dying without leaving any pain or sorrow among his nearest.
Truth, or maybe fiction?
Then there's a story, "Severus and Stone", of a brother dying in the
night: "...I followed him into the woods/crossed beneath the trees/but only I left my prints in tow/he was afloat/found a lonely tree/and tied himself within its limbs...". "Black Eyes" is another tale of disturbed thoughts:
"...I got storm clouds that are brewing behind my eyes/and my heart will be blacker than your eyes when I'm through with you".
The Family Tree: The Roots is heavy on the use of symbols, and Cooper's lyrics are soaked with drama, but also warmth, as in 'there's hope'. Summed up in key-words we can list: Life. Death. Love. Hate. Hope. Inner demons. Ghosts.
Loneliness. Safety. And woods. But maybe most of all: Family. Roots.
The Family Tree: The Roots isn't 'joyful' listen. I mean, this is dead serious stuff, lyric-wise, and of course it's a walk on the moody side of life. Or, rather, through the darker woods, searching for your 'soul', or your 'self'.
With its answer to be found in your 'roots'. And, yes; it's on the moody side musically as well.
All the songs have this great atmospheric touch, leaving a majestic and indeed personal album. The quality of the 11 tracks is so high it's almost impossible to name favourites, or even to point out any weak spots at all.
It's just to sit back and wait for The Branches and The Leaves.
Copyright © 2012 Håvard Oppøyen