Radical Face: The Bastards Volume One

For some reason I feel that I ought not to like this EP, but (as is so often the case) the deeper I dig, the more immersed in the record I become, and the better I like it. In fact, this EP is astonishingly good; flying in the face of all my premonitions and instinctive reactions.

Running on autopilot, my mind flagged up what felt like a whole list of worries upon first approaching this record, yet when I came to focusing on what these reservations actually were, they proved to be elusive and ephemeral. Receiving, as I do, such a large quantity of rubbish in my inbox every day, I like to think my spidey-sense is pretty well attuned to rubbish music, and as such my first impressions carry a lot of weight. I know (or at least thought I knew) that a band name such as 'Radical Face' would inevitably herald some amateurish pub-rock that I'd regret ever having listened to. The accompanying PR-gumph, while polite and honest and clearly well-intentioned, didn't help much either: this EP, so I'm told, is a prelude to a full-length album that is to be the first in a series of records all built around the concept of a family tree. Not a good sign, I thought to myself: this pub-rocker's pretentious to boot. Who does he think he is, Sufjan Stevens?!

It seems like an odd approach, I'll concede, to begin what is overwhelmingly a positive review with a whole host of reasons why I didn't think I'd like it, but there is method to my madness. This small EP (only three tracks long) contains some simply stellar moments, but it doesn't give it all away right at the start. Conventional wisdom dictates that promo EPs such as this one put their best bits first; grab the listener! Draw them in! Hook them in the first 10 seconds! Radical Face (real name Ben Cooper), however, doesn't do this. Rather he has the courage to kick off with a song that is distinctly back-loaded, a track that holds on to all its aces until the closing moments.

It is so easy, these days, to dismiss a piece of music completely out of hand after having only heard a little part of it, and to dismiss this record is such a manner would be a tragedy. I outline my reasons for expecting to dislike this release, dear reader, so that you might learn from my mistakes. If you, too, feel my initial misgivings, I urge you to ignore them, and if you do so then you will be mightily rewarded.

There's not really anything to dislike about this album - the aesthetic textures, the vocal timbre, the pacing, the charm, all of these elements are excellent - but for me the best aspect of these songs is the way they're constantly surprising me. I took to this record straight away, but I'm well aware that really liking something on first listen is not necessarily a sign that I'll still like it after ten listens, or a hundred, so it was with a skeptical ear that I returned to the music, and it was this process of pseudo-forensic examination that foregrounded the 'surprising' element of this set of songs.

Literally every time I began to feel that I knew what a song was doing - every time I thought I'd 'got' it, so to speak - the song threw up a new element, a new hook, a new texture that re-engaged my fascination. Even now, after a good couple of weeks of regular listening, I have yet to be bored when hearing these songs. Obviously only time will tell if this sensation continues, and I find that very few records stay in heavy rotation after more than a month or so, but these three songs are nevertheless very strong indeed, and I have high hopes for the album that this release precedes.

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