Album: The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
Released: October 4th, 2011
Radical Face is the stage name of musician Ben Cooper who released his first official studio album in 2007. His music is noted for the use of acoustic guitar, soft and layered vocals, and storytelling within the lyrics. He has released four studio albums, all of which carry concepts within their songs and the last three are part of a single story called The Family Tree. An independent artist, Radical Face primarily tours outside of the United States due to the popularity of his music in the rest of the world; however, he does play some isolated shows and went on a more extensive North American tour in 2013. His most recent work has been on a film score, another full-length record, and a series of EPs.
**Spoiler Alert – Story Details Ahead**
The Story and the Songs:
The Family Tree albums concern the family of the Northcotes and their descendants, with this first entry introducing the first generation and the strange abilities passed along their bloodline. “Names” brings about the sorrow of hitchhiking, much like “Homesick” from Ghost. The character in this song, Judah Northcote is on his way home after accidentally murdering a man who mocked his family. Sounding as though played through an old speaker, “Names” is a melancholy start to the album. Judah’s story continues in “A Pound of Flesh,” where he describes being on the run for taking a life. “Family Portrait” takes a step back in time, describing the youth of Judah’s father, William, and his aunt, Victoria. Told from William’s perspective, “Family Portrait” lays the foundation for the family tree that gives the album and its sequels their name.
“Black Eyes” picks up when William is an adult and in the throes of drunken fury after his children are secreted away by his wife in the night. The kick drum plays a large part in this song by maintaining the pulsing beat alongside impatient guitar lines and Cooper’s falsetto. A beautiful piano melody introduces the next song, “Severus and Stone.” This is where the supernatural elements come in as it describes Victoria’s twin sons, the eponymous Severus and Stone, on the night that Severus dies. There is an ethereal quality to the song which matches of Stone being able to see his brother’s ghost. “The Moon is Down” is a lover’s lament from Tom Carson; the shy neighbor of Victoria, Tom loved her from a young age but never made his feelings known. This song features a rolling pace with piano, acoustic guitar, and Cooper’s vocals.
“Ghost Towns” returns to Judah as he reminisces about being on the run now that the family of the man he killed is after him. He knows he can’t return home and tries to make peace with his actions. “Kin” describes the abilities of Virgil Northcote, the third son of William, after receiving a blood transfusion from his cousin, Stone. He begins to hear the voices of his dead relatives and this trait is passed along his family line. In “The Dead Waltz”, Victoria’s daughter, Abigail, walks on water when she sleepwalks. One night, Tom sees this happen and brings the young girl back to her mother, promising to protect the child so she isn’t burned by the villagers as a witch. “Always Gold” describes the relationship between the William’s other two sons, Robert and Kyle; Robert always stayed home to take care of things while Kyle was aggressive and often left. The song, from Robert’s perspective, shows the love between the brothers and importance of their bond. “Mountains”, the final track on the album, is narrated by Timothy, son of Robert from the previous song, and talks about his older brother, Christopher, who is home on military leave. Timothy dreams of his mother, who died of scarlet fever, in this upbeat end to an album filled with heavy subject matter.
The Family Tree: The Roots is a solid foundation for the series of albums, laying down the cornerstone of the musical and lyrical themes to be explored. There is a wonderful amount of poetic lyricism in this album (the opening lines of “Severus and Stone” are some of my favorite ever written), and though there is a connected story in the album, it doesn’t necessarily stick out too much. The listener can tell that there are stories in the songs, but they can stand on their own in addition to their places in the album. Many of these story details weren’t known until 2016 when Radical Face released a guidebook that gives further insight into the story of the characters.
For those wanting to read more detail about the story, Cooper created an interactive map that gives the stories behind the songs and can be accessed here.
Please enjoy some song recommendations, a song from the album, and check out the band’s social media accounts below!
Song recommendations: “A Pound of Flesh” , “Severus and Stone” , “Ghost Towns” , “Always Gold”