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Something Radical for the Fall

As you settle into your homework routine this fall season, crack your window so everything smells like a mixture of leaves and freshly mulched grass, watch the leaves trickle down and cover the ground, and look for that perfect music to capture the emotion of the fall season, turn your attention to Radical Face’s, The Family Tree: The Roots.

One of my personal album favorites for this time of year comes to you from singer/songwriter Ben Cooper of Jacksonville, Florida. While a member of bands Electric President, Mother’s Basement, and Iron Orchestra, this album comes as a solo act from Cooper. Released almost a year ago, The Family Tree: The Roots is one best reviewed during the fall/winter season. The first album in Cooper’s three-part Family Tree series, which follows the fictional family of the Northcotes circa 1800s, was recorded in a tool shed behind his mother’s house over the course of fifteen months. The second and third album of the three part series will expand on the dark history of the Northcotes family — its passionate lovers, experience of loss, domestic violence, regret of past mistakes, and the challenge of leaving home. Cooper masterfully creates this historically lyrical narrative by creating complex layers of the only instruments available during the 1800s: acoustic guitar, piano, bass drum, background vocals, and hand claps. The effect is just as rustic and indie-folk as the tool shed the album was created in.

The way Cooper turns each song into an individual story is beautiful, filling each track with emotion that is heart-wrenching yet powerfully dark. In “Always Gold,” (the song most famously appearing in George Clooney’s The Descendants) Cooper sings, “It cut me sharp, hearing you’d gone away. But everything goes away, yeah everything goes away,” telling of the separation experienced by two brothers leaving home. “Dead Waltz” describes a sleepwalking girl who waltzes with ghosts. Yet, “Family Portrait” describes a family that started with tragic beginnings before it had even begun.

When I first saw a picture of Ben Cooper, I was shocked. Despite Cooper’s big, burly physique, his voice is nothing short of timid and one that would sing a baby to sleep. While often compared to Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, and Grizzly Bear, Cooper projects an old-fashioned sound that remains stylistically simple, true to his intentions specifically for this album. Cooper’s voice truly aims to narrate through a low-key, sophisticated, yet soul-bearing fashion which will haunt any listener well after he/she has turned off this album.

Maybe it’s the way that Cooper narrates such a complex family story through the forty-six minutes and five seconds of this album, the often cold yet content ambiguous feeling that resides while listening, the dark shadows that linger long after Cooper’s voice has subsided, or the complex emotion experienced with this family that causes a retraction into something darker and more mysterious that makes me pair this album with the season changes of fall and the anticipation of a darker, more cold time of year. A true emotional story and one that will leave you waiting for the remaining bits of this family’s intricate history, The Family Tree: The Roots is one that should be listened to by all audiences.

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