Radical Face
The Family Tree: The Roots


4.5
superb

Review

by c0ffee USER (5 Reviews)
October 13th, 2011 | 19 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist


So Ben Cooper is at it again--
… stitching sounds in a Florida toolshed and going sans-record label to produce an incredibly untainted album. The Roots, the first of The Family Tree trilogy, is sturdy ground for the rest to branch.

It’s just shy of a year since I first heard Radical Face; it was wintertime. I remember being caught in a drab, wintry frame of mind (it happens every year) when I discovered Ghost (Radical Face’s first LP), an album that felt fitting for the cold season, with the right dose of gloom to relate to. It’s not a sad album, but Ben has a way of celebrating darker-toned themes, constructing eerie ambiences that just consume the listener. Ghost was a pick-me-up without sounding all drizzled with sunshine. Sometimes, it’s better to feel that sameness, instead of just striving for the opposite. We can all relate somehow to family. The term, family, might not mean warmth for all, and Ben documents this. The Roots focuses on the past. I can remember asking Grandfather to tell me all those gripping childhood stories of a time that seemed so foreign, or about his past family I never directly knew, then yearning for the good tales over and over. It’s the same feeling here. Ben constructs a fictional, early 1800-1950s family tree--The Northcotes--and The Roots narrates the early generations (the roots of the genealogy). The stories are almost uncomfortably personal-feeling at times, but they remain relatable to the listener, allowing the thought that every family has their down times:

“Father turned into a drinker, a dark bastard with a wooden heart.
Sister learned to be a mother, before she ever played another part.
I became a little terror. I lashed out at whatever’s around.
Took some time before I settled to find a mind that was somewhat sound.
And as it always does, time rushed on…”


Ben took the challenge to record with only the instruments available from the time period of the stories: voice, acoustic guitar, piano, and floor tom being the main four, with flourishes of banjo, strings, and hand claps. So there’s this immediate old-time feeling--this instant connection to tradition. Is this not what “folk” is meant to be in its strongest form? Really tethering to the past? But the music doesn’t feel dated, as the compositions are neoteric and fresh, so you’re left with a beautiful contrast of old and new; the album is stripped without being thinned. Ben has always had a way with assembling atmosphere. With Ghost, you’d have ambient backdrops of kids laughing, crow calls, door creaks, or wind chimes. The Roots opens with sounds of a desolate road-trail, with chirping insects and a palpable heaviness of nightfall approaching:

“As the warmth of the sun leaves my back,
and these bruise-colored skies turn to black.
None of these faces look the same,
and not a one knows my name.

…Oh, I am a long way from home.”


The music is visually evocative. Following this, he begins his unique style of layering, enfolding simplistic rhythms and riffs to create music that’s sonorous and thick without being muddied, with bursts of Ghost-esque clap-percussion sections that drive the songs. The Roots is full of those “lines” and “moments” that clamp around your head and then linger. There’s a comfortable balance of stripped Ben-plus-guitar acts with the brimming, full-eared climaxes. The voice becomes an instrument, not just a passage for the story words. He overlays singing to feel almost hymn-like. As the generations will progress through the next two albums, Ben will tinker with more levels of production, adding to the instrument ensemble list, so feeling The Roots in its wholeness will require the contrast of the following two…but even as a standalone, this album isn’t diminished.

I look forward to familiarizing myself with the Northcotes, absorbing into the music and the story. The album’s already beginning to feel like home.


user ratings (102)
Chart.
4.1
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
c0ffee
October 13th 2011


280 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Some good ones to get you going:

A Pound Of Flesh
Black Eyes
Ghost Towns
Mountains

klap
Staff Reviewer
October 13th 2011


10459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

hey i should get this

Digging: Cymbals Eat Guitars - LOSE

garth
October 13th 2011


91 Comments


Are physical copies able to be bought yet?

c0ffee
October 13th 2011


280 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

you can grab a cd from his main website. he's still working on getting the vinyls finished.

garth
October 14th 2011


91 Comments


Ordered it today. Pretty excited.

Tikicobra
October 14th 2011


573 Comments


This album is pretty dang amazing.

JohnGrady
October 18th 2011


153 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is great. Was apprehensive at first because it seemed like he would always resort to that drumstick/clapping beat.

Love Black Eyes piano.

c0ffee
October 18th 2011


280 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Felt the same way, really. Looking at it from the outside--without really listening enough times--the drumstick/clapping may appear repetitive. Every song feels pretty distinct by now though.

Loving Always Gold at the moment.

JohnGrady
October 30th 2011


153 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

There's no comin home, there's no comin home, with a naaaame liiiike mine.

Fuckin A, so good.

MagmaWalrus
June 22nd 2012


242 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is phenomenal. How did I miss this?

ABjordanMM
November 20th 2012


1411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is really good. The lyrics are really nice.

Digging: Manchester Orchestra - Hope

Ignimbrite
December 11th 2012


5354 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Always Gold makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Digging: This Will Destroy You - Another Language

fromtheinside
March 2nd 2013


18363 Comments


i had no idea this existed. oh boy oh boy

Digging: Gehenna - Seen Through the Veils of Darkness

ABjordanMM
March 19th 2013


1411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

oh boys

Funeralopolis
July 16th 2013


11413 Comments


how the hell does this not have more attention

Digging: Black Milk - No Poison No Paradise

ABjordanMM
July 16th 2013


1411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It is pretty sweet.

jmh886
November 15th 2013


833 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This guy's great. Reminds me of Andy Hull. Or Mount Eerie to a lesser extent.

Underflow
December 17th 2013


2565 Comments


These lyrics.

avonbarksdale221
January 6th 2014


8237 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is pretty great. Ben is an excellent story teller.



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