Caught by the River

Modern Nature – How To Live

22nd August 2019

How To Live is the debut album from Modern Nature, out tomorrow on Bella Union. Alistair Fitchett reviews.

Perhaps it is just my age, but I admit I find it ever more difficult these days to keep track of what bands particular musicians might happen to be in at any given time. Jack Cooper is a case in point, for after his work with Beep Seals, Mazes, the (brilliant) Ultimate Painting and a gorgeous solo record under his own moniker, he is now back with a new act named after Derek Jarman’s tremendous Modern Nature – a book of journal writings from the years spent creating his Dungeness garden. Dungeness is a strange and beautiful place, one of those liminal spaces where juxtapositions of the natural and constructed worlds seem at once bizarre and entirely right – and as such it feels entirely fitting that its peculiar landscape permeates the first album made by Cooper’s new group.

The songs on How To Live may not form a narrative in the same way that those on Cooper’s 2017 solo set Sandgrown do, but they nevertheless fit together in a looping post-modern structure that tells stories connected by notions of movement, isolation, reflection, dislocation and disconnect. In this sense How To Live is a filmic record that values more abstract sensations of landscape over details; a record that may not be about any particular place but that is certainly about place and our trajectories around and through it. Refrains almost but not quite repeated; suggestions of musical themes that are real-not-real; connectivity created by field recordings ebbing and flowing in the mix: it’s an illusory, impressionistic and instinctual record. We hear words almost mumbled from the edge of the causeway and the end of the rainbow. Something about clicks repeating and footsteps, something else about Conquistadors. Stand atop the lighthouse and glimpse the textures spreading like a kaleidoscope vision beneath the stars.

In places (particularly on the tremendous ‘Footsteps’) Modern Nature remind us of the cool motorik calm of Appliance punctured deliciously by discordant bursts of saxophone (courtesy of Jeff Tobias from Brooklyn’s jazz/rock Sunwatchers). That driving rhythm of train tracks clacking past beneath us is to the fore again on ‘Nature’ (drums provided by Woods’ Aaron Nevue), this time punctuated by Will Young’s anxious guitar squalls sweeping in from the estuary. Elsewhere we float on a rippling surface of waterways, disturbed by dreams washing in on the evening tide. Here’s Lou Reed jumping a Spiritualized freight out to Coney Island, baby, and there’s a squadron of Talk Talk albums swooping in to hang out with the (Boards of) Canada geese on the lake. Big skies (The Kinks’, Kate Bush’s, maybe even Hurrah!’s) stretch into forever and we lay on the shingle suffused by shivering sunlight, grasping at the gentle psychedelic magik of it all.

In How To Live Modern Nature have made a strangely supple record into which we can escape from the fetid swamps of reality; its space one that provides a canvas onto which we can project our internal travels through subliminal landscapes, accompanied by treasured suggestions of shared reference and connectivity. And that’s a rare treasure in these times.

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How To Live is out tomorrow. Buy a copy here. You can also win a copy of the album, on winners’ choice of CD or vinyl, in tomorrow’s newsletter competition. Make sure you’re signed up to our mailing list!

We have a limited number of fantastic Modern Nature t-shirts, illustrated by Tara Okon, available in our shop. Buy one here.

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