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Radical Face
The Family Tree: The Leaves
Radical Face / Nettwerk Productions Ltd.

Finally, Ben Cooper has finished and released the final album in his The Family Tree trilogy series, following The Roots and The Branches, as well as the 'leftovers' bonus disc (holding songs that didn't fit within the length of each album), The Bastards. He has been working with this series over the past eight years, so he has delivered a monumental piece of work with this fictional family snap shot song cycle in sounds and lyrical 'images'. He is just about to finish a European mini tour (of sold out shows) before taking on the US. I still remember his visit in Oslo last fall when Radical Face did a short tour in Europe and Scandinavia.

The album trilogy is of course well connected and should be explored and listened to chronologically. The last chapter holds ten songs, stretching over 40 minutes and it presents more of the warm and touching songs penned by Cooper. This album kicks off with "Secrets (Cellar Door)", in which Cooper enters the basement of his ghost ridden 'musical house'. Secrets, ghosts and mysteries have been present in Cooper's songs all the way back to his spectacular and hauntingly beautiful first album, Ghost. The spellbinding and spinning "Rivers in the Dust" follows, as yet another dark tale from the dusty crypt: 'It was hard to call the thing we saw a storm / Like it had climbed down from the pages of some novel / And the sheets of dust hit everything like waves against the rocks / It was morning but I'd be damned if I could tell...'. Cooper handles darkness and mystery stories, visiting inner demons and faded memories with a steady hand and his ballads make you sit quietly listening. Such as "Everything Costs", "Third Family Portrait", "Photograph" and the closing "Bad Blood". Cooper makes old, paled and colour faded still photos and historical reminds/remains come alive through his songs. Most of his compositions hold tender piano and guitar, laidback drum grooves, with occasional instrumental spice such as flute, cello, and necessary musical loops as well picked garnish (Cooper plays nearly all the instruments himself) - all topped with Cooper's mild and mellow voice. Some tracks are of the more 'up-tempo' (but not fast) kind, even though they still are calm type songs. Just check out "The Ship in Port", "Old Gemini" and the master key track "The Road to Nowhere". The latter being a highly suggestive, indeed hypnotic and catchy song spinning through the air with a neat, simmering, energetic drum beat, a swirling piano, and a fine cello drive. His songs are often of the bleak and gloomy kind, all swept in melancholia but with warm and safe humour and laughter following disaster; like he sings: 'Sifting through the hiccups of time / We'll hide in the bones of the city / The engines sing along with their cries / This song, it spells disaster / But we drown it out with laughter...'

Not all of his stories are fictional, taking place in an alternate reality (of a '19th century family, whose blood flows with special abilities that range from seeing spirits to bringing the dead back to life. Their secrets bind them together, a warm flame held against a harsh world...'). Some songs/stories are (for the first time) directly autobiographical, such as "Bad Blood". Some songs are indeed literary and The Leaves is a more cinematic album as well ('It's a time period of film and photographs''I always wanted to write a book, I was drawn to East of Eden and A Hundred Years of Solitude, those multi-generational family sagas where you see how one person's life affects the family line.' Regarding the dark themes, Cooper states that 'The roots of folk music are dark. They just have nice melodies'. Ben Cooper's real life has been said to be 'tumultuous' ('A lot of us got into music because we were outcasts in a southern town.'), and he sings about his 'rocky childhood' and a 'strange and dark family history'. 'It's my life, but I wrap it in fiction', and he continues: 'I've always been guilty of using music as a therapy. Because with music, you can take something ugly or hard and can turn it into something pretty. You can force it to become something that it never intended. Even with the saddest things, you can make them beautiful.'. Speaking of the literary in his songs, "The Road To Nowhere" is '...a dustbowl song, following two Okies pushing through to California. The first half is all slow traveling, and the back half, where it gets more cloudy and shoegazey, represents a huge wave of dust.' This is Cooper's way of 'making' literature disguised as recorded songs. Songs that contrast emotions in a most excellent way. Like the press sheet says he 'continues the narrative of the supernatural brood, offering a polished, textured sound entirely crafted by Cooper. His DIY-ethic has evolved into a lushly orchestrated album.'. Spot on.

The Family Tree: The Leaves shows proof of Ben Cooper's clever and skilled song writing, and marks the end of an exciting journey through modern, melodic storytelling of some hidden, secret, exciting past. It will be interesting to see where Cooper goes next; if it will be some other Radical Face phase project, or if he'll return to the collaboration project (with Alex Kane) as Electric President. Time will show. Until then, you'd better experience and enjoy his songs in concert (as well as on record). Let Radical Face take you places where 'young girls sleepwalk on water, forest witches heal the sick, and an ageold family has the power to communicate with the dead.... among the twisted trees and abandoned factory towns, ... a realm where phantasmagoria and fables become one.'. The universe created by Ben Cooper is multi-layered both in music as well as inside the stories told and he 'crafts albums like an author writes a tome, extolling subtle Southern Gothic and magic realist tales with a soundtrack of jangling guitar, layered strings, and syncopated rhythms.'

Copyright © 2016 H. Oppøyen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Radical Face articles/reviews: Ghost, Parkteatret, Oslo, Norway, 17 November 2015, Sunn, The Family Tree: The Bastards, The Family Tree: The Branches, The Family Tree: The Roots.

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