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Concept albums are increasingly becoming endangered species in the music world, especially as consumers opt to purchase singles and listen to mass playlists on various streaming sites. There are, however, still bands and artists who are making records that revolve a single theme or tell an immaculate story across its 10 songs. But then there is Ben Cooper, a singer-songwriter who has very few peers.
For the past five years, Cooper, under the moniker Radical Face, has embarked on an ambitious project rarely seen in music. He has created his own history, which could even be considered a mythology, called The Family Tree series, which across three, full-length albums follows several generations of a fictional family. The last in the trilogy is The Leaves, arguably the most stunning and expansive of the three.
From the Gothic choral opener “Secrets (Cellar Door)” – which builds off where Branches left off (even the lyrics of the song makes reference to the second album) – to the stunning and crushingly beautiful finale, the Nordic ballad “Bad Blood”, The Leaves is enchanting and captivating. Like a great story or movie, the album flows effortlessly between its high points and the more subtle, serene moments.
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During the more intense and glorious moments, the album reaches majestic portions, such as during the the breathtaking “Everything Costs” which follows one of the children exploring the world around her in search of discovering who she is. During the times of what appears to be tranquility, like on “Third Family Portrait”, there is still a sense of mystery and doubt that can be felt in the song, in order to match the uncertainty that awaits the family in the next chapter.
As often is the case with a great book and even real life, a moment can elicit contradictory feelings. “Rivers in the Dust” encapsulates the juxtaposing emotions, particularly when leaving something, somewhere, or someone behind while the future awaits. The song’s dramatic conclusion where all the instruments converge is terrific. “The Ship In Port” feels like an uplifting, spirited track, but deep within the song’s soul is the voice of the subconscious that leaves seeds of doubt. “The Road to Nowhere” reverses the approach, where the haunting beginning mirrors the questions and doubt that exist in the family’s mind but it soon changes to one of hope and optimism.
The diversity and constantly shifting patterns in The Leaves are what keep you transfixed throughout the record’s ten chapters. No song sounds alike – not only within The Leaves but across the entire trilogy, which is a considerable achievement. When combined with the emotive qualities and Cooper’s intimate vocals, you have an album that is simply remarkable. What Cooper has accomplished is reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens’ ambitious and glorious albums, Michigan, Illinoise, and The Age of Adz, and Damien Jurado’s recently completed “Maraqopa Triology”, which also ended this year with the brilliant Visions of Us on the Land. And like these two gifted singer-songwriters, Cooper with The Roots, The Branches, and finally The Leaves has been able to capture our imagination with music in a way that very few have been able to achieve.
For more on the trilogy, including learning about the different characters, visit Radial Face’s website, which is below along with his other social media sites.
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