Modern Nature are ultimately a 3-piece band led by Jack Cooper, previously of Ultimate Painting, and have a couple of releases under their belts, showcasing a light pastoral improvised approach to song making, reflecting the later more esoteric work of Talk Talk, and more especially the acoustic explorations of Mark Hollis. They take an idea and stretch it, with minimalist layering and improvisation. They took their inspiration this time from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and especially the phrase ‘the isle is full of noises’, and have explored exactly what kind of noises it would be making. As a result we have an album of gentle nature, and flowing streams and tinkling brooks, clear summer air and bountiful harvest, bleak stillness and heavy clouds.
The packaging is as important as the art presented within, coming as it does using all recycled and sustainable materials, this double vinyl (only) box comes with a book featuring contributions from a wide range of artists (including Booker-nominated poet Robin Robertson, mycologist Merlin Sheldrake, illustrator Sophy Hollington, polymath Eugene Chadbourne and The Lark Ascending author Richard King) who were all asked to interpret the music their own way. Unfortunately I wasn’t supplied with a physical copy so we’ll have to assume it is a wondrous thing as so much care has gone into the overall presentation. The record also contains a sister album of instrumental variations on the themes expressed, on which I can’t comment as I was only furnished with a download of the actual album.
And so to the music. 10 songs, all with simple one word titles, with slow, building riffs and unaffected saxes and cellos drifting in and out of the mixes, delicately painting in impressionistic style of Englishness – its forests and valleys and life, with delicate strokes of guitar brushwork and purely tuned drums, with little or no effects, and we’re drifting down streams and tributaries like a twirling autumn leaf through the surrounding countryside, safe in the arms of accomplished musicians, neither being rocked too hard or too soft. The voice of Jack Cooper is never too demonstrative and is at times a little too weak to carry much emotion, but the delicate arrangements push just enough without overpowering the delicacy. The highlights throughout are the marvellous Wyatt style saxophone interjections from Evan Parker, lending a “Rock Bottom” vibe to the whole affair, especially on opener “Tempest” and instrumental track “Symmetry”, and the gently tinkling piano provided by Alexander Hawkins giving it all a Nick Drake “Bryter Later” vibe. The highlight of the album is the 7 minute final song “Build”, which does just that… coming on like Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” as played by English public school boys! Polite but pulsing, gentle but exploratory. A great album to immerse yourself in, like a warm bath, or an autumn stroll.
It’s a very limited edition but beautifully packaged record so get it while you can. It will look awesome on your coffee table.
Island of Noise is out now on Bella Union Records
Find out more on Modern Nature’s official website
Review by Andrew Wood