I have never seen Ben Cooper aka Radical Face aka Electric President in concert. He has never been in my neck of the woods as far as I can tell, and now he’s going to take a fancy tour around Europe, without any domestic tour dates as of yet. His atmospheric, lyrical and conceptual records are some of the most interesting being made these days, so note to Cooper: we’d like to see you someday!
In any case, Cooper’s European tour is in response to his recently-released album called The Family Tree: The Roots, his sophomore effort under the Radical Face moniker. The album is part of what will be three-part series, following a fictional family from 1800 to 1950. Cooper created the family by fleshing out genealogy charts and stories he’d read, and focused most of his energy in the last two years on writing songs surrounding this family. By the time he’d finished, he had more than 40 songs, necessitating the three albums.
I don’t think that I can name a musician as committed to concept and story as Ben Cooper. Instead of focusing on music or vocals or an image or artistic branding, Cooper commits to the story first and foremost, allowing his instrumentation, vocals and ambient sounds contribute to this telling. Cooper is already so successful at smaller, one-track storytelling, which served the function of a short story or vignette; his early successes have certainly led him to his first novel, or more accurately, this The Family Tree trilogy.
The Roots is instantly recognizable as Radical Face. Cooper’s signature hand-claps, cyclical repeated piano and stripped-down instrumentation is similar to that of his first album, Ghost. In this respect, I was a bit disappointed—it felt in some respects that Cooper fell into the typical sophomore album slump, unable to replicate his signature success while still expanding it into new directions.
The place where Cooper certainly grew was in his lyrical storytelling and his melding of sounds with this original intention. The album is certainly darker than his previous efforts, and Cooper uses his simplified instrumentation to his advantage in this respect. Particularly successful is the song “Kin,” which adds rain noises, a thickly-plucked banjo and discordant vocals to speak about dead kin interceding in their living relative’s life.
The most successful part of the album is Cooper’s difficult-to-achieve feat of making a conceptual, linked album that includes songs that can be emotional impactful alone, as well.