Released as a stop-gap between last year’s debut How To Live and its follow-up, due to be recorded sometime this summer, the mini-album Annual from Modern Nature is as light as a feather and is over in little more than 20 minutes. Based around frontman Jack Cooper’s diary thoughts and ideas in a very ‘Marwood from Withnail And I’ way, the songs attempt to reflect the seasons. In reality, these seasons are so sparse and lacking in their own distinct identities, they could all reflect the same season.
One of the rare direct references to the weather outside comes courtesy of closer Wynter as Cooper tells of falling snow, but lyrics slightly tinkered could easily reflect any season he so wished via the music itself. Which, in this case at least, is hugely captivating as gentle guitar – an unmoving feature throughout – pricks the ears alongside shuffling percussion: it all points quite clearly to Talk Talk’s experimental years. The same guitar lick, if you can call it that as it’s so subtle, also adorns opener Dawn, a brief atmospheric minimalist cut at just one and a half minutes; Cooper wanted the seasons of the year to flow into each other like a never ending cycle and it works for repeated continuous listens as the two tracks bleed into each other seamlessly when playing the EP on loop.
Saxophone plays an important part on Annual, adorning most tracks, nearly all of which have that ‘lounge music’ feel and the hazy lazy Halo clearly yearns for something, anything, to lift it, percussion at least holding it together amongst its guitar string twanging and smooth sax. Flourish and Mayday meld into one another, again blending so tightly it’s hard to see differences but Harvest, with Itasco’s Kayla Cohen on lead vocal, does at least offer some deviation at last via its delightful melody if not its delivery and pace.
Recorded in December 2019, what was happening in Cooper’s environment leading up to Annual was obviously a lot different from what’s happening in his world these days, so it will be interesting to see where that takes us for the second full album. For now, though, there seems to be an obvious maturing going on; there is little here to remind us of his previous tendencies to employ the occasional motorik beat with Mazes in particular, and with Ultimate Painting more of a duo than an outlet for just Cooper’s ideas alone, perhaps Annual is a closer reflection of a creator gradually getting closer to his core. Just like Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis did. The key to that band’s material lasting a long time, though, was the ability to inject something different into the mix occasionally; in comparison, Annual feels like a one-paced, indistinctive first step into a new world and one that is begging for just the odd about-turn to maintain interest.