Review Summary: You remind me of what I could have been, but that reminder ain't much help.
As I've gotten older, it's gotten easier to write off every concept album as pretentious, and maybe that's just the cynicism that comes with age; the mindset that you sound a whole lot smarter if you, in your infinite wisdom of all things music, criticize a work, otherwise, God forbid, expose yourself to the vulnerability that comes with a positive reaction. Because that's the cool thing to say these days, right? To call an artist's project, which strives to be something greater than the whole, as utter bull***. Yeah, I've said it before, and it'd be easy to do the same for The Branches
. But as I've spun Radical Face's new album several times, going through the necessary New Music Rating Stages, which of course involve the 4.5 of "this is the greatest thing ever and I'm only on track two," to the 3 of "I don't understand it, therefore it sucks," and to the 4 which lies somewhere between the two, it's become clear that Radical Face's second installment in the Family Tree trilogy is far too honest to write off as pretentious.
Because Radical Face has always been about a personal narrative -- that story so ingrained in your DNA it demands to be told. It's what made up the core of The Roots
, and resulted in one of the most personal listens I've ever experienced, folk-americana tendencies for narratives aside. And it's that kind of raw honesty that can't be damned, so it's only fitting its follow-up should continue that successful method on The Branches
But whereas The Roots
soaked in the melancholic defeat of a family estrangement, such as on the chorus of "Ghost Towns" where singer Ben Cooper croons, "there's no going home with a name like mine," The Branches
shows Cooper reflecting on his blood in a much more forgiving light -- He's no longer dragging along any of the bitterness towards his upbringing, but instead is paying tribute to the fact that he had one. It's this kind of redemption and joy that permeates throughout The Branches
and it's what makes the tracks, "The Gilded Hand" and "From the Mouth of an Injured Head" stand as arguably his best songs to date. The sheer immensity and triumph of them is almost baffling given how homogenous the music is to its predecessor as the record, for the most part, is extremely similar in sound to The Roots
Yet where over-consistency of sound is a flaw on many albums' sequels -- and with a name like The Branches
you'd expect the musical approach to be a lot wider in scope -- it makes perfect sense in a trilogy, which benefits from a strict adherence to a specific tone. In fact, much of The Branches'
songs are written in the same key as those from The Roots
(for all you music theory nerds out there), and when the instrumentation is limited to folky guitar picking, piano arpeggios, subdued floor tom, and group clapping, there's only so much diversity to be had.
What The Branches
ultimately symbolizes is a progression in a concept album trilogy where the lyrical narrative branches out, but the music sticks to its Roots, maintaining a constant framework for which Cooper takes us on his personal journey.