Radical Face’s “Family Tree” Trilogy is an American Masterpiece

Because with music, you can take something ugly or hard and can turn it into something pretty. You can force it to become something that it never intended. Even with the saddest things, you can make them beautiful.
— Ben Cooper

The most powerful art builds worlds, separate universes for us to travel through as a means both of escape and perspective; you never really understand what it means to live on this planet until you’re looking at it from space.  

For the past eight years Ben Cooper, who also creates under the name Radical Face, has been creating a world of astounding complexity waiting to be discovered, doors within doors, each with the key already in the lock. Inspired by multi-generational novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude, Cooper’s three album Family Tree trilogy - The Roots, The Branches and The Leaves - follows a twisting, diverging but ultimately connected story of multiple families of the course of generations, complete with Bastards EP releases of leftover, but still moving, tracks.

Each family carries with it certain musical traits that change and evolve over time, and beginning to dig into the stories and finding yourself pleasantly buried deeper and deeper inside them is, fittingly, a magically surreal experience, like stepping inside a child’s pretend spaceship and finding yourself actually transported to another planet.

“The Mute,” The Branches, 2013

Like any genealogy, the albums contain a very real appeal to our inner-historians, an appeal Cooper has amplified by creating a digital map that allows us to travel around that world, piecing together the puzzle for ourselves with the guiding hand of a master. But crucially, while the trilogy’s structure triggers the same categorical impulses that Game of Thrones does, each song is a self-contained work of often staggering beauty, and often sadness, capable of standing on its own.

”The Road to Nowhere,” The Leaves, 2016  

The experience of watching “The Road to Nowhere” is unsettling and filled with a kind of shattered hope, and it works as a musical and visual world all its own. But then pair it with the video for “Everything Costs,” and the synapses of the story connect in a brief fit of glory. The girl on the bridge now has her own story, the writing is repeated in each video, what was at first an isolated story is now a chapter in a novel, and to voyage through each of the Family Tree projects is to experience that moment of connection over and over again. (That experience of realization works both ways if you watch “Everything Costs” first.)

“Everything Costs,” The Leaves, 2016

When I was kid a family began building a new house across the street, and at night my brother and I would sneak inside. We’d climb stairs that were nothing more than boards, imagine what each of the scaffolded rooms would be, who would live there. This would be the daughter’s room, in the middle of the night she’d have a nightmare and go down the hall to their parents room here, just like we did.

Trespassing into a forbidden place that turned out to not be so forbidden at all felt familiar and dangerous and magical, and in the few days that I’ve been moving through The Family Tree I’ve been thinking about that house for the first time in years. About how a new family probably lives there now, about these hidden lines of connection that run through people and places.

It’s my life, but I wrap it in fiction. I’ve always been guilty of using music as a therapy.
— Ben Cooper

The music in The Family Tree is extraordinary as music, but to stop there is to arrive in a new land but stay on the boat. It’s rare that we get a work this truly complex.

The Family Tree Bundle Includes: Select tracks, beautiful artwork and a remix contest. Download the stems, put your own spin on the music and win some radical prizes including vinyl, CDs and signed posters. 

[By Nathan Slavik, @RefinedHype]