Over the past 5 years, Ben Cooper aka Radical Face’s Family Tree trilogy has taken the Florida-based artist on a climb through the charts as well as the foliage. Cooper’s journey began in his family’s backyard shed in Jacksonville where he crafted his DIY aesthetic on his minimalist first record The Roots in 2011 before releasing the top 10 chart placing The Branches in 2013. But with the release of the third and final instalment, The Leaves on March 25th it seems he’s fallen from this carefully crafted tree metaphor.
The Leaves simply doesn’t offer anything that different from its predecessors but this doesn’t make it a bad album. Radical Face at its best is an outlet for Cooper’s extremely well honed story-telling abilities and this album allows him to keep expressing that as he continues to follow the multi-generational narratives of the fictional family, The Northcotes. Throughout the trilogy certain melodic patterns have been used represent certain family members and those melodies have been mutated but remain recognisable on The Leaves. There’s cohesiveness and then there’s the conceptual collateral damage Cooper has created in his consistency.
His ability to write a beautiful, melancholic track is undoubtable and is obvious on tracks like ‘The Ship in the Port’ as he croons “Sing another song for the lost ones/ we’re the ones who need it the most”. Cooper’s twinkling acoustic melodies are practically made to be played in the background of future car adverts. The worst perpetrators for this being opening track, ‘Secrets (Cellar Door)’ which seduces you with its folk-Americana glaze and ‘Third Family Portrait’ which is littered with the jingle of tambourines.
His ability to write a beautiful, melancholic track is undoubtable
This is exactly the light indie sound we’ve come to expect from Radical Face though. He can add as many choral voices and orchestral swoons as he desires and trust me he does, especially on ‘Midnight’. But Cooper’s consistency continues to work against him in the creaking, cracking, crickets and chattering that wallow behind most of the tracks. His DIY sound acts as a barrier for the sonic sorcery he is easily capable of and instead makes it mundane.
Only two tracks on The Leaves really show Cooper’s capacity for progression – ‘Everything Costs’ and ‘The Road to Nowhere’. Both weave electronic pulses and looping into the tracks breaking the chain of folky guitar picking, piano arpeggios and clapping that so dominate the rest of the album. They don’t obliterate the sound Cooper has cultivated throughout The Family Tree trilogy, they enhance it. It’s just a shame that the rest of the album hasn’t had the same treatment.
As an ending to The Family Tree trilogy, I think many people will be left ultimately disappointed by The Leaves. To make a terrible metaphorical comparison, this tree has been stunted and the leaves have a long way to fall from The Branches.