Radical Face Ghost

[Morr Music; 2007]

Styles: chamber pop, acoustic singer/songwriter all grown-up
Others: Neutral Milk Hotel, Voices & Organs, Paul Simon, Benoît Pioulard, This Melodramatic Sauna

You may know 24-year-old Ben Cooper from his work with Electric President (another group on the Morr roster). For this solo record, Cooper adopts the moniker Radical Face, but offers a similar brand of articulate folk-pop recorded in his shed in Jacksonville. Ghost is thick with crafty storytelling, but its true pathos only comes in scattered bursts, resulting in a handful of flaccid tracks surrounding gems. A lot of indie pop groups out there would sacrifice limbs for literate anthems as fetching as “Welcome Home” or “The Strangest Things.” The second track’s conversational, multi-tracked verses give way to massive, keening choruses rained on by spry piano melodies and breezy "ooh"s and "ahh"s. It’s a highlight because the song’s story has an accompaniment bold enough to carry it.

Cooper carves out eccentric, visceral tableaux of childhood fear and desire with his words (à la Jeff Mangum), but the orchestration sometimes binds the imaginative force of the narrative to conventional nostalgia (i.e., big string swells inaugurating the sad part of the song). This is more likely to happen on slower numbers (“Haunted,” “Homesick”), where Cooper puts down the acoustic guitar and lets his voice stand alone amid sluggish organ loops and strings. It’s when things are locomotive -- cloudbursts of organ and distortion yielding to syncopated handclaps and fleeting piano; vocals surging from solo confessionals to giant, seething choirs – that the album’s themes of memory, haunting, and abandon are genuinely realized in sound.

Ghost is a competent and sometimes captivating album. Fans of the literary arms of folk and pop shouldn’t let the mixed praise here deter them from seeking it out. Although rather up-and-down over the course of an hour, it’s sure to provide such listeners at least one mixtape staple (“Welcome Home”) and a young talent worth listening for in the future.

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