From hushed balladry to blasts of free-jazz sax, Modern Nature entrances at first U.S. show


Cooper, a Londoner best known for his stint in the now-defunct Ultimate Painting, has extolled the pastoral sound of Fairport Convention, a 1960s British folk-rock group. Yet the folkie elements in Modern Nature’s style are balanced by electronic ones that Cooper also deems essential. The band’s name comes from a book compiled from the diaries of the late British filmmaker Derek Jarman, who cultivated a seaside garden within sight of a nuclear plant.

The 10 songs on the group’s debut album, “How to Live,” flow into one another, which is how they were heard live. They were played in the same order as on the record, linked by short periods of buzzing and burbling, as if each tune was a successive ripple from a single stone lobbed into a pond. “That’s how we do things,” explained Cooper in the first of two short breaks in the music, which didn’t occur until after the fifth number.

All the songs were of a piece, including the sprawling “Supernature,” the pre-album track that served as the encore. Yet there were multiple strands within the meticulously woven style, which encompassed hushed balladry, short blasts of free-jazz sax and metronomic beats that recalled 1970s German “motorik” rock. Cooper’s vocals were mostly whispery, but could turn more assertive, bolstered briefly by Tobias’s voice. Tempos didn’t shift much, but inched faster for such songs as “Nature,” which ended with Cooper’s only demonstration of dirty-guitar swagger.

“How to Live” was recorded with five musicians, including cellist Rupert Gillett. He was absent from the live lineup, as was band co-founder Will Young, whose place was taken by keyboardist Marcus Hamblett. That put the spotlight on Cooper, with Tobias as his lieutenant. They provided the spontaneous moments, while Hamblett and drummer Jim Wallis clicked and pulsed like machines.

Also on the bill were D.C.’s Near Northeast and New York’s Olden Yolk, both of which melded folkie melodies and synthetic timbres in a manner that could hardly have been more compatible with the headliner’s approach.



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