Family Tree: The Branches is the second installment in a trilogy of records from Radical Face. It continues the family saga begun by 2011’s The Roots, and will be followed by The Relatives. Ben Cooper, the voice behind Radical Face (who is also a member of Electric President, Iron Orchestra, and Mother’s Basement), explains that the lyrics on these albums are based upon “a fictional family tree — a Frankenstein of random genealogy charts, my own family history, some of my personal experiences and plain old fiction.” (http://www.radicalface.com)
The Branches is another beautiful Radical Face album despite the fact that it probably contains the most depressing collection of songs that Cooper has written. As in Cooper’s previous efforts, the harmonies and background vocals here are fantastic. The piano work throughout the album is also wonderful. Unlike Radical Face’s previous recordings, The Branches has been mastered, making it cleaner and a bit more modern sounding than Ghost, Family Tree: The Roots, or Radical Face’s two EPs.
The lyrics on The Branches are often quite dark. There’s a great deal of regret expressed here, and very few of the stories here have happy endings. Cooper begins “Reminders” by saying, “I wish I had more nice things to say, but I was raised not to lie.” This kind of bleak realism is representative of the tone throughout most of the record. The closest thing to optimism on The Branches is the kind of calm acceptance conveyed in songs like “Holy Branches” and “Letters Home”. The latter, a fictional letter from a wounded soldier back to his family, ends with the line “I’m all right; I’ve made peace with it all.”
“Summer Skeletons” is probably my favorite song on The Branches. It has everything that is good about Radical Face: simplicity, honesty, and profound, unassuming lyrics like: “we were down by the shore and the skies opened up and all the stars fell into the lake, and the water was warm. I walked in over my head then you pulled me out by the collar of my shirt.”
I do somewhat miss Radical Face’s slightly more hopeful side, and I must say that Ghost is still my favorite album, but I would highly recommend giving Family Tree: The Branches a listen.