Album: The Family Tree: The Branches by Radical Face
Released: October 22nd, 2013
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 Branches begins with “Gray Skies”, a short introduction featuring echoing vocals and quiet guitar plucks before leading into “Holy Branches.” This track brings us back to Stone as an adult from the last album; because of his connection to Severus as a twin at the time of his brother’s death, Stone lives with his brother’s disembodied voice in his head as his soul cannot move on. “The Mute” is about Tom, Victoria’s neighbor who married another woman, and his son who cannot speak. Tom sees his son, Phillip, as a punishment for loving Victoria while marrying another woman; Phillip, unable to connect with his parents and the world around him, eventually runs away. “Reminders” follows another link in the family tree; Abel, the bastard son of Judah from “Ghost Towns”, never met his father and has trust issues that keeps him from forming relationships in this lament of love. “Summer Skeletons” is narrated by Jim, son of Timothy from “Mountains”, and is one of the more positive songs on the album. Jim remembers his youth and a summer day spent with best friend, Bailey.
“The Crooked Kind” describes Frederick, son of Virgil from “Kin”, and his difficulty with hearing his dead relative’s voices. His younger brother also shares this trait, and the song is about coming to terms with the strangeness of their bloodline. “Chains” brings Kyle from, “Always Gold”, back into the story and embodies a letter home to his brother, describing how he ended up in and out of jail for most of his life. The song features the sound of actual chains and evokes the feeling of passing by a chain gang. Chase, the older brother from “Mountains”, writes “Letters Home” after being shot. He isn’t sure whether he will live and makes peace with this while writing. “From the Mouth of an Injured Head” is another song that takes place in a hospital; Abel was injured while working construction and suffers from amnesia, freeing him from his previous trust issues and allowing him to give himself fully to his lover. This is another emotional high point on the album with a more upbeat tempo and percussion.
Abigail, from “The Dead Waltz”, had three children; Annabel, who walked off into the woods, Katelyn, who left as a teenager to live with their cousins, and Gabriel, who narrates “Southern Snow.” A short and simple song, it is about the strange reaction Gabriel’s neighbors have one year when it snowed in the deep south. “The Gilded Hand” is about a sociopath-scientist named Artemis Tomb, who is obsessed with alchemy and learns of the special abilities that the children of the Northcote family have. He experiments on these children while those who are “normal” are made to work in a factory. “We All Go the Same” is the final song on the album and the final song featuring Tom, who is stricken with grief after Victoria dies. The song explores mortality, regret, and is somber to reflect these themes.
The Family Tree: The Branches features more contemporary instrumentation; for example, electric guitar makes an appearance in “Holy Branches.” Despite this, the songs are built around piano, acoustic guitar, and Cooper’s vocals. These songs are often sad and contain less than jolly subject matter, but the musicianship, lyricism, and songwriting are all to be lauded. The second entry in a trilogy is typically the most difficult, but The Branches is executed extremely well and sets up the final entry with anticipation.
For those wanting to read more detail about the story, Cooper created a guidebook that tells 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: “Holy Branches” , “The Mute” , “Summer Skeletons” , “The Gilded Hand”
Previously: The Family Tree: The Roots