Jack Cooper isn’t one for sitting still. The brilliant Mazes delivered some shimmering guitar work alongside motorik beats and at times a slacker rock presence whilst another of his bands, Ultimate Painting, delved into chugging, hypnotic grooves – a bit like The Velvet Underground but with a lighter touch.
It’s been over a year now since Cooper and his Ultimate Painting partner James Hoare wound the project up somewhat surprisingly but Cooper was back within no time with a new band, Modern Nature. Comprising of BEAK>’s Will Young, Woods’ Aaron Nevue plus contributions from Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers) on sax and Rupert Gillett on cello, Modern Nature don’t really sound too much like either of Cooper’s aforementioned bands. With more of a folky coating, his own solo album Sandgrown from 2017 is possibly a closer cousin.
There’s a certain bleakness to debut How To Live that is akin to recent influences. The incredibly stark album by Talk Talk, Laughing Stock, is an album that Cooper refers to when discussing catalysts for the collection, but also a trip to the fittingly bleak surroundings of the nuclear power station dominated town of Dungeness was another, the visit being a curiosity he had around resident film director, the late Derek Jarman, who provides the album name by way of his own diary title.
Opener Bloom is short at under two minutes but it quite possibly wields more power than anything else in Cooper’s back catalogue as it takes some of this amazingly minimalist impetus and delivers a spine-tingling start as Gillett’s cello literally bleeds sorrow, evoking a feeling of complete isolation and, in turn, desolation. But it’s merely a prelude to the album closer where the excellent Devotee re-uses the same haunting melody before lyrics tell of the completion of a journey; “end of the rainbow” and “edge of the portal”, Cooper sings before instructing, “leave all you can behind”.
How To Live indeed follows a strict narrative, according to Cooper, that goes “from what we imagine to be a tense, aggravated city to the release of nature” but along the way there is undoubtedly some confusion, depicted accordingly by Tobias’ jazzy freeform sax. This first appears on Footsteps and the uncertainty over the albums direction when compared to Cooper’s earlier work is also paramount here; hitting on the inoffensive, flowery chugging beat of Ultimate Painting, the track then becomes more wayward as the sax almost rips apart the canvas before collapsing in on itself. The stuttering, stumbling Séance also leaves a puzzling impression before the sax returns, this time more controlled, for an album highlight in Peradam as well as Nightmares, where things sound more like a calm dream than anything dark.
Leaning towards Nick Drake, Oracle is perhaps the folkiest moment with an ethereal presence hanging over it as prog rock guitars brush the track whilst prog continues into the following cut, Nature, where another chugging beat almost becomes motorik before ending abruptly. Criminals, meanwhile, boasts an almost perfect chord sequence as its repetition delights whilst its chorus attempts to – but doesn’t quite – soar, as Cooper sings “fly”, as if willing it to do just that.
How To Love is an interesting departure for Cooper and one that breaks down some of the barriers Ultimate Painting in particular seemed contained by. You get the feeling, though, that we’re not quite there yet, it’s almost as if this is hinting, teasing even, at a bigger arrival that’s just over the horizon; something worth sticking around for, undoubtedly.