Album Reviews

Modern Nature – Island Of Noise

(Bella Union) UK release date: 28 January 2022

Modern Nature - Island Of Noise The cover art for the second Modern Nature album is a veritable Noah’s Ark. Some of the UK’s most treasured species are presented against a white background, a riot of colour highlighting the pheasant, the Canada goose and the peacock butterfly.

In proof that you can judge a book by its cover, the music provides an accurate depiction of these images. While frontman Jack Cooper’s voice is often hushed in its delivery, the instrumental writing blossoms into vivid shades, lifting the songwriting to a higher plain. The saxophone of Evan Parker is key here, describing the instrumental overture Tempest with uncanny accuracy but finding the emotional core of each song in which he plays. At the other end of the audible spectrum sits the grainy double bass of John Edwards, seemingly supporting the voice in Dunes from beneath the Earth’s surface.

As it happens, Shakespeare’s The Tempest was the inspiration for both the album’s title and its musical content. In addition Cooper was keen to represent the chaos wrought by the pandemic in the last two years, as well as the relative order experienced as all the musicians recorded together when restrictions eased in the summer of 2020. Within that setting the band (voice, drums, bass) decided to keep a relatively earthbound profile, with the other instruments given license to spread their wings.

Above this musical profile the lyrics are key. The listener has to lean in close to hear Cooper’s voice on occasion, but the way in which he sings is both profound and earnest. In his celebration of natural life the voice drops to a whisper at the start of Ariel, “when all that’s left is empty boards and a looping tide”. At that point the cello begins to murmur, winding up through the texture as the elements combine to great effect. “Strange powers are overcoming a slow orbit around the sun,” he sings, before “the fire burns out again”.

Masque is similarly enchanting, with a loose bass and provocative sax solo, while Bluster ends peacefully under the spell of a baleful trumpet. The last song, Build, is the crowning glory of the album, surging for the finish with intoxicating power.

A curious musical observation is that Island Of Noise spends a good deal of its time in the tonality of F, either major or minor. This might not present a massive problem, especially if the listener follows Cooper’s advice and listens to the album in one go, but it does mean some of the songs sit together in a similar mood. This could well be the order Modern Nature have been searching for, however, and their imaginative use of instrumental colour gives the necessary variety between the songs.

Island Of Noise is set to be a sustainable release, with some intoxicating visual art, thoughtfully sourced and sensitively delivered. This attention to detail runs through the pores of the music, giving the repeat listener something new to discover with each visit but, like the peacock butterfly, making a strong first impression too. Cooper’s band is definitely worth making some noise for.

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More on Modern Nature
Modern Nature – Island Of Noise
Modern Nature – Annual
Modern Nature @ Green Door Store, Brighton
Modern Nature – How To Live