A really wonderfully realised collection of bucolic, antiquated indie-folk.
Mike Diver 2012-01-26
"I’ve got no need for open roads / ‘Cause all I own fits on my back / I see the world from rusted trains / And always know I won’t be back." These lines, from the track Ghost Towns, perhaps perfectly encapsulate this second LP from Florida native Ben Cooper, aka Radical Face. It’s a collection of lost-and-founds, sounds from artists already experienced given life anew by a singer whose M.O. is, simply, to inhabit these arrangements with a defined personality that presents the end products as wholly new discoveries.
So while echoes of Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver persist, never do these parallels manifest to the detriment of what is a really wonderfully realised collection of bucolic, antiquated indie-folk, played primarily on archaic instruments that would have been available to 19th century musicians. Yes, this is a concept piece – the first in a planned three-part The Family Tree series, exploring the lives of a family unit in the 1800s – recorded in a tool shed. No, really. A tool shed.
But one can choose to overlook the conceptual baggage attached to this project, as the simple beauty of these songs shines brighter than any narrative framework to which they’re attached. Truly, this is a rare treasure of a collection; one that, through elegant economy, manages to convey more emotion than any act whose idea of layering on sentimentality begins and ends with the employment of a string section. Cooper sings like a man whose next day is one clouded by conflict, shrouded in doubts over how to get from dawn to dusk; his playing is bound by a limited arsenal of instruments, but entirely suited to songs on which silences are golden and space to breathe is paramount.
When the pace quickens on Always Gold, the air of uncertainty changes to one of celebration and Cooper’s vocals could almost be described as cheerful. Rather more typical of tone is A Pound of Flesh, its click-clack percussion driving onwards a piece of elegiac splendour, its lyrics effortlessly painting pictures in the mind’s eye: "I can still hear your feet as you ran from the house / But knowing you won’t be back doesn’t mean that I’ll stop waving." Severus and Stone is a tender piano number that’s akin to a glossier-of-production Perfume Genius tossed into a time machine; and The Moon is Down is as quietly charming as Elliott Smith’s hushed reveries.
"It ain’t much / But it’s good enough for me," muses Cooper on the latter track. Such a modest appraisal, as this record’s one which warrants investigation from any fan of music wearing its bruises with a wary smile.