Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Family Tree: The Branches | Radical Face

The one-man indie band Radical Face released The Family Tree: The Branches a short while ago, thus being the second installment in his Family Tree series of albums. I was quite excited for The Branches since I thought The Roots was really special, but honestly, I wasn't fond of The Branches on the first listen last year. For some reason, it seemed different than The Roots in a way I didn't like. But, my feelings have changed a bit since then.

"Gray Skies" kicks the album off as a melancholy intro before getting into the first proper track, "Holy Branches." Radical Face has still keep the raw, acoustic sound he's known for, but already, I can tell that we're in a different time period from the first installment, The Roots. Each installment gets closer to the present; The Roots starts in the 1800s. He really is accomplishing what he set himself out to do, and even though "Holy Branches" represents the new time period well by being a little more upbeat and having a jazzier vocal line, it still has a relaxing flow (as most of his music does). It's about a discontented existence... That's really the beauty of Radical Face's songs - they may not be happy, but they manage to represent the ever-human feeling of being unhappy but dealing with it because it's all we can do.
"The Mute" follows, and I must note that this is the reason why I decided to give The Branches another shot. I love this song. It's a recollection about how the speaker felt misunderstood by all when he was young and eventually ran away... While most of us don't run away, it's a topic that we can all easily relate to from one point of our lives or another. There are a couple Radical Face songs that deal with the idea of not belonging, and he does it so well. The piano dances over driving acoustic guitars, and there really isn't a proper chorus aside from Ben Cooper (the man behind the magic of Radical Face) vocalizing.

The volume goes down a bit for the fourth track, "Reminders." Something about the guitar in the chorus reminds me of the band Daughter as it's so subtle, comforting, and even somewhat haunting. There's a peculiar sound effect off and on throughout (it kind of scares me for whatever reason yet it isn't off-putting), even aside from the natural static heard throughout. It picks up as the song goes on, adding more instruments and intensity. Once again, Cooper sings of any oddities or seemingly undesirable personality traits, and its a lonesome-sounding track altogether: "So it's better if you were on your way / If you were somewhere far from me / So you could dream I turned out well / And I... I could just go to sleep."

"Summer Skeletons" is definitely the most 'innocent' song on the album, as it paints a vivid picture of how summertime is characterized by children with its swaying vocals and piano line. It has a distinct mood as it includes pretty violin sections (stuff like that always makes me swoon). "The Crooked Kind" also features violin, and while there isn't anything for me to complain about in this song, it just doesn't catch my ear. The lyrics are beautiful nonetheless.

"Chains" is by far one of the most 'modern-sounding' songs (even adding electronic elements) on The Branches, and with the sound of rattling chains and the daunting, repetitive backing vocals, it's unique. I absolutely hated it at first, and I'm still not crazy about the beginning, but over halfway through, the piano really becomes prominent and the song becomes very melodic, very nostalgic. It puts me in the mind of Blue October.

Next, we encounter "Letters Home," which is one of my least favorites as it doesn't leave much of an impression on a musical level. It begins in a very watered-down form before all the other guitars make their entrance. I feel similarly about the following songs, "From the Mouth of an Injured Head" and "Southern Snow" (although I am intrigued by the instrumental second half with its dreamy synth that overlaps the slow, full guitars and backing vocals).

Just when I'm feeling pessimistic about this album, "The Gilded Hand" comes along. This track is quite different than the norm for Radical Face; it's so much more serious and dark with its wistful, repetitive piano line that goes on for nearly the entire song, no matter if the moment is softer or louder, which seems to exemplify a life of working on an instrumental level as well as a lyrical level: "Time is lost, found cracks along my bones / This metal god is all I know." There's even a little bit of electric guitar starting in the second half of the song, giving it an especially full sound (Radical Face's music has oftentimes been rather stripped down instrumentally). Without a doubt, it's one of my favorites.

The last song, "We All Go the Same," begins with a choral blend of Ben Cooper's vocals along with breathy sounds, but that's not the only different thing it has going for it. I believe there's an accordion (I'm not an expert on what those sound like, so I'm sorry if it's actually something else), and eventually a slow, simple series of piano chords as Cooper sings about death. The ending verse actually puts a few tears in my eyes before it cuts off and the album's over... "We All Go the Same" ranks among the most beautiful of Radical Face's songs.

As I said in my review of The Roots from two years ago, The Branches is also a difficult album to describe. It's strange... The songs are different, but not too different altogether, just in some feelings they emanate. I've said it in my review of The Roots and I'll say it here: Radical Face has a talent for describing emotions in the most realistic way. It's what makes him stand out among other artists. In my world, this is the definition of indie in its purest form.

Not every song single song resonated with me, but I enjoyed most of the songs from this new installment of The Family Tree. There is some very sincere musical content on this album that's certainly worthy of any praise it receives.