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My favourite album of 2011,
This review is from: The Family Tree: The Roots (Audio CD)
Ben Cooper is a prolific independent artist and musician who releases music under a whole range of identities, Electric President being perhaps the best known of them. Radical Face is a rather different and largely acoustic solo project, lovingly crafted out of piano, finger-picked guitar and multi-tracked harmonies.
Cooper doesn't have the strongest voice, but like Mercury Rev or Elliot Smith, that works in his favour in the musical and lyrical setting that he has created. The Roots is the first in a proposed trilogy of albums exploring a fictional family tree, and it gives the album a set of characters and its own internal mythology. (It's a trick that works for Midlake) Songs are stories, cryptic and intriguing, full of dreams and visions, tragedy and exile. It's haunting and imaginative.
Those stories reveal themselves over repeat listens, but it's the music that has to guarantee those repeat listens and it does so with ease. The album opens with the hushed intro 'Names', and then flowers into the piano-led 'Pound of Flesh'. It's a good example of Radical Face at its best, a beautiful song with a hint of something sinister. 'Black Eyes' hammers that old piano, 'Always Gold' drops to a single one-finger piano line and ticking, then bursts into harmonium. My personal favourite is 'Ghost Trains', which boasts a lovely rising piano riff and a handclapped chorus - hand percussion being one of the distinctive recurring sounds here.
The Roots is a strange and beautiful album, but what makes it one of my favourites of the last couple of years is the coherence of its vision. The music and the lyrics work perfectly together. It exists in a world of its own, right down to the faintly echoey production, no doubt the entirely deliberate result of recording it in a tool shed. It's a real work of art.