Record Label: Bear Machine Records
Release Date: October 4th, 2011
02. A Pound of Flesh
03. Family Portrait
04. Black Eyes
05. Severus and Stone
06. The Moon is Down
07. Ghost Towns
09. The Dead Waltz
10. Always Gold
Ben Cooper’s (Radical Face) first album, Ghost, proved he was capable of releasing a concept album that worked. His first album delivered emotionally and he does it again in The Roots. His sophomore release, The Roots, is the first of a three album set, Family Tree, which he says revolves around a “fictional family tree I came up with from studying genealogy charts.” The second album differs from its predecessor in that it’s subject matter becomes more of a “downer” as it revolves around death and regret. It feels more subdued musically but definitely not in the lyrics. The lyrics are clearer and the imagery much more vivid this time around. While the subject matter is sadder than that of Ghost, it does not leave you feeling that way. It’s slower than its predecessor but its depth and emotional delivery makes it an album you want to put on repeat.
“As the warmth of the sun leaves my back/and these bruise colored skies turn to black, none of these faces look the same/and not one knows my name/I am a long way from home” Ben sings in the opener, “Names,” and this sets the tone for the rest of the album. Despite its one minute and 15 seconds, it gives as much emotion as the rest of the album. The “ooh’s” and humming done throughout Ghost, is ever present in The Roots. It’s heard in “A Pound of Flesh” and layers the lyrics and does so in a way that just works. It builds up the drama and stops abruptly before he sings, “keep a candle burning in the window/I’m almost home,” leaving the listener feeling sated.
Cooper’s focus of story telling really comes through in “Family Portrait” where the piano puts the listener in a sort of trance just waiting for the story to unfold. It goes into the background story of a father and the relationship of the father and mother. It starts off as a love story but plunges into those themes of death and sadness as a child is “born in the river of blood,” the mother dies, and physical violence erupts.
The instruments are kept simple as piano and acoustic guitar are the central entities building up the excitement while still playing up the gloomy tones. In “The Moon is Down,” one of the more simpler songs, the piano and soft vocals in the background make it seem lighthearted but the lyrics shows a person not wanting to be an anchor to someone meant to do bigger things. “All my life I’ve watched you dance along/to music that I can’t hear/I aint equipped to hear those songs.” The fast paced piano in “Ghost Towns” has the same effect as “The Moon is Down” as it seems to be a lighter sound but it continues with the gloomy theme yet its chorus is catchy and memorable. Cooper’s classic “oh’s” continue in “Always Gold” in a familiar way and channels to something that of Ghost while sticking to his theme. “Always Gold” becomes one of the stand outs as its powerfully delivery keeps you singing the lyrics.
The progression throughout the album remains cohesive and sticks to its concept, while still keeping a variation throughout the songs. Cooper focuses more on his story telling this time around but throughout the album, he does not lose focus on the music. His lyrics remain clear-cut and tell a story with vivid images that leave you wanting to press the repeat button. When artists make albums with topics running along those on the sadder side, they can be shallow and leave you feeling nothing. The album overall is definitely slower and sadder than Cooper’s first album but a run through of the album will leave the listener remembering what they liked in Radical Face in the first place. The content may be sadder but continues in what we expect from Ben Cooper, indie folk music that is enjoyable and memorable.
Personal favorites include: Names, Family Portrait, Black Eyes, The Moon is Down, Ghost Towns, Always Gold
Download the new song “We’re On Our Way” from RF’s prequel EP for free: