Following the mainstream success of song, Welcome Home, which was featured on the ever so popular Nikon advert, Ben Cooper, aka, Radical Face, has been, for better or worse, thrust into a place of popularity. This often goes two ways, either where Radical Face threatened to go with the albeit frankly underwhelming release of album Ghosts, or to a place where this new found popularity creates enough security for the artist to develop and take chances.
New album, The Family Tree: The Branches is part two (part one, The Roots, was released last year) of a three part conceptional series where Cooper tells the story of a 19th century family whilst only creating using instruments from that era. Arrogant right? Yeah, I thought the same when I researched the album, but actually, the record works because of this with songs so stripped bare, often only featuring guitar and vocals, that they allow Cooper to let the song writing breathe for itself. Stand-out track Reminders is a strong example of this, with vocal harmonies interspersed between a half picked-half strummed guitar melody that is just utterly beautiful. It also contains possibly my favourite lyric of the year so far; ‘I wish I had more nice things to say but I was raised not to lie, I’m either honest or I’m an optimist but never at the same time.’
No album is perfect though, and there is a part of me that just says, what’s the point? It isn’t like The Branches offers anything new to the folk genre, let alone to music. This isn’t going to be one of those albums where you are going to look back in ten years time and say ‘this album changed my life’. In part this may be due to the conceptual theme. There is no doubt that on an intellectual level the lyrics are great, but emotively there are only rare moments when you feel a sense of honesty and vulnerability (and it is often these songs that are the stand out moments). If Radical Face could move beyond that on this conceptual set and allow listeners to see their soul, then they could really be onto something because gripes aside, The Branches, at least sonically, is a warm, cuddly hug of an album that envelopes your ears as the world passes you by, and is more than worth of a space in your record collection.