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Modern Nature - Island of Noise Music Album Reviews

Modern Nature - Island of Noise Music Album Reviews
Jack Cooper’s vision as a songwriter and bandleader comes into focus on the most cohesive album of his career: a fantasyland hybrid of elegant folk-rock and understated free-jazz.

In another era, Island of Noise—the all-absorbing, ever-patient new album by amorphous British band Modern Nature—might have been a major-label debut. After all, the project’s mastermind, Jack Cooper, sports the sort of impressive résumé that lends itself to upward mobility, from his time in two buzzy rock bands to his more recent stint in the alluring and elliptical Ultimate Painting. Modern Nature’s first album, 2019’s How to Live, seemed poised for a breakthrough, too, with its orchestral angularity suggesting a bright new spot along the line connecting Talk Talk to Radiohead.

The initial release of Island of Noise late last year had mid-’90s major-label energy, too: Before it appeared digitally in late January, the album saw life as an intricately illustrated box set containing an alternate instrumental album dubbed Island of Silence (both LPs were pressed on recycled vinyl), with a sheet of stickers and a dense book featuring responses to its 10 tracks from the likes of popular science scribe Merlin Sheldrake and culture critic Richard King. It has the gravity of a profound statement, a major production. You can imagine J. Spaceman—for an alt-rock moment, the prince of such audacious spectacle—nodding approvingly at the ambition.

Island of Noise, though, is a testament not to old bloated budgets but to Cooper’s vision, rapidly coming into focus as the leader of a band whose lineup shifts with every project. (Ultimate Painting, he has lamented, was too easy, because he only wrote half the songs.) It is the best, most cohesive album of his career, the product of a widening topical scope and a refined instrumental approach. These pieces unfurl as a fantasyland hybrid of elegant folk-rock and understated free-jazz, framed by Cooper but animated by an ad hoc wrecking crew of improvisers that includes fabled circular-breathing powerhouse Evan Parker and textural, imaginative violist Alison Cotton.

As a lyricist and singer, Cooper creates a fragmented and prismatic microcosm of our own world, so that we can contemplate our crises—environmental devastation, relentless racism, caustic religion—with critical remove. Beautiful but sad, eerie but tender, Island of Noise feels like a sublime stopover between OK Computer and Kid A, or between the eccentric British folk of the early ’70s and the austere Chicago post-rock of the ’90s. Its songs are subtly overstuffed, brimming with layers of luxurious melody and imaginative variation.

Cooper was revisiting The Tempest—one of Shakespeare’s final plays and an expansive synthesis of many of his preferred themes—when he encountered a new mantra: “Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,” which he scrawled on his workshop walls. Cooper also borrowed The Tempest’s situational conceit, in which a gale casts a ship onto some unknown and distant island. What would we see about ourselves with this “new beginning” on this “holy island,” he asks above ascendant horns and strings on “Dunes,” if we had the chance? His crew survives the opening instrumental, “Tempest,” where Parker’s fluttering saxophone captures the anxiety of mortal terror while the rest of the band offers a preemptive dirge. They begin again on “some brave new morning.”

The relief is temporary. Natural disasters, unchecked development, and weaponized gods all arrive in “Performance,” the island idyll corrupted after only five minutes despite the hope that “there’s heaven in those hills.” (Cooper slyly borrows language from The Tempest here, buttressing his own images with the Bard’s while nodding to the way old problems stick around.) The island dwellers break nature and turn to religion to excuse their destruction during “Masque,” the horns howling a forlorn duet in response. Finally, on “Spell,” they murder those who dissent in an admixture of fear, ignorance, and rage. “The orchestra are tuning/Every string, every wire,” Cooper gently sings, mourning our longtime habit of cheering collective persecution, from the fatal fights of the Colosseum to the mindless faceoffs of cable news.

Recorded in London in the fall of 2020 during a brief reprieve from lockdown restrictions, Cooper’s assemblage of musicians indulges his troubled worldview without overstating it. Paired with fellow saxophonist Jeff Tobias, of modern American freak team Sunwatchers, Parker has rarely balanced beauty and edge so well in his long career. He captures nervousness, then lets it sublimate like a sunset. And the brilliant rhythm section of Jim Wallis and John Edwards swing then skitter, dance then march. They map Cooper’s moods with the precision of a stethoscope. Cooper coos when he sings about this troubled little world; the band responds with quiet aggression, scoring these catastrophes with careful restraint—a Greek chorus with the volume down.

Island of Noise can seem inscrutable at times. Cooper is a fine lyricist, capable of turning mundane things like thunderstorms and rainbows into exquisite snippets of poetry. Still, he often makes his narratives cryptic, his feelings ambiguous. I’ve listened to Island of Noise a few dozen times, and I always walk away somewhere different on the continuum between horror and hope. Is this island a new beginning or an old ending, an opportunity to right wrongs or simply repeat them?

Cooper leans into such questions during “Build,” the magnificent finale where his little improvisational orchestra renders an ellipsis with exclamation marks. “Do you see it? Do you see it?” he demands in a steady register as the band lashes out wildly, at last. But he never says what it actually is—the future or the past, the cataclysm or the salvation? That’s up to you to decide, all of Island of Noise seems to suggest—and soon.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Modern Nature - Island of Noise Music Album Reviews Modern Nature - Island of Noise Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, February 07, 2022 Rating: 5

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