Soft swirling pop, tinged with country joys and sorrows
The wordless chorus to Radical Face’s “Welcome Home” is maybe the most joyful piece of music you’ll hear all year, as effortlessly buoyant as Grizzly Bear, as ecstatically non-linear as Animal Collective. It’s the sort of moment that seems to seize you by the hairline and haul you helplessly off into the clouds, you cannot help but feel better when it comes over the stereo. And it’s all the more real and concrete and beautiful because of the rackety clatter of hand-claps that pushes the beat forward. It’s a prickly, euphoric cloud of sensation, the best song, but not by much, on Ghost, a very promising debut album.
Radical Face is a new project from Ben Cooper, the Jacksonville, Florida-based songwriter who was, at one time, half of Electric President. His new outlet is more organic and down-to-earth, with textures of piano, accordion, and banjo woven into ethereal pop melodies. The whole of “Asleep on the Train”, for instance, layers slow-growing accordion tones and inchoate vocal harmonies over melancholy piano notes, a wistful daydream in music. There are samples incorporated—the children’s voices in gentle, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci-ish “Let the River In”, for instance—but the sounds mostly feel organic and natural.
That’s not to say these are traditional folk or country tunes, far from it, regardless of how hard Cooper strums the banjo. They’re more in the skewed, hyper-naturalistic traditions of Animal Collective and, even, toward “Winter is Coming” a bit like ecstatic, overcome-by-the-spirit Brother Danielson. Indeed, in the most percussive songs, “Welcome Home” and “Winter is Coming”, there’s a sense of headlong motion that makes the joyfulness almost a physical thing.
The first half of Ghost, everything up to “Wrapped in Piano Strings”, moves along quickly. There are good songs later on—“Winter is Coming” is near the end, for instance—but the sense of momentum diminishes. “Haunted” derives its drama from subtle changes in emphasis and volume, rather than tempo or melody. It’s quite pretty in an ominous way, but won’t knock you flat like “Welcome Home” does.
That’s a small quibble because very few songs this year have knocked me flat quite like “Welcome Home.” It’s everything I wanted but wasn’t getting from the Shins’ “Phantom Limb”—an effortlessly airy, sweet-but-not-sugary, rhythmically unstoppable pop song. Welcome home, indeed, to Radical Face.