Mini Album: Modern Nature – Annual review

If you’d like to learn more about Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper, check out the latest issue of our zine, which features a exclusive career spanning interview with the songwriter.

by Chris Hatch

As soft, dew-speckled guitars slowly come to life on the aptly name Dawn, you can almost feel the muscles tingle, like an early morning, sinewy stretch of the arms. And as daybreak slowly flickers into light, the familiar sound of Modern Nature slowly breaks from its slumber and settles in for another spin around the sun.

Annual is the latest outing from the Jack Cooper helmed project that sees the Lancashire native joined by a rotating cast of fellow musicians. Sonically, there’s not much to separate this mini-album from 2019’s beguiling, How To Live – the mix of sultry double bass, meandering guitar lines, and playful saxophone flourishes once again make up the heart of the album, but it’s the cyclical, self-propelling theme of the record that really sets it apart. Annual is a document of one year in the life of Cooper’s thoughts and emotions – with ideas drawn from a journal that the frontman had filled with notes and phrases over the course of twelve months, Cooper sensed a shift in tone from season to season when he read back through his pseudo-diary. Annual is essentially this journal set to music.

The first handful of listens don’t fully reveal the secret behind Annual – the changes are more subtle, more nuanced – but after living with the album for some time things slowly start to click into place. When Flourish creeps out of hibernation, it’s a slinky, springtime flurry of guitar, bass and drums that leap and lurch about, seemingly trying to grab the attention of Cooper, whose half-sung whisper sounds like a man who hasn’t quite yet gathered up the energy to take on another year. Yet, by the time the album concludes, you realise that the colour palette has shifted slightly – its bright verdant greens have morphed from hazy pastels into colder, muted browns. The beautifully shadowy Harvest is the most straightforward in its change in tone – a warming, burnt orange sky is laid out for guest vocalist Kayla Cohen’s voice to wind across, before Cooper paints in some stark, leafless trees by way of a jolting, angular guitar coda.

Annual feels like it shouldn’t have a track listing – its songs don’t begin or end, but instead they slowly embrace each other, like the arms of spring stretching out to gently take hold of the hot, dry summer. You barely notice these shifts in tone – but they are most certainly there. The horns are playful and springy at the front of the album, but take on an autumnal, haze by the time Harvest and Ritual roll around. Riffs and motifs weave their way in and out of the album like old thoughts that keep re-surfacing – they sound familiar, but each time they’re re-framed and seen in a different light.

While Annual is built around the cycle of a year, there are times it feels like a stand in for something else. On one listen, it feels like the slow shift of dawn turning to dusk; on another it feels like an idea that rises and falls in your conscience like the cycle of tides lapping in and out of a beach somewhere in the back of your mind. As album closer, Wynter, gloomily thumps out of view you realise that another year is over. Spring rolls into winter; day turns into night. Days, months, years, thoughts; they all seem to come and go so quickly. Nothing seems to happen, and yet everything seems to change. By the album’s end it’s hard to tell whether Cooper is lamenting the year that’s passed or hopeful for the one about to come – but perhaps there’s no time to dwell on that anyway, because if you listen closely enough, you just might hear the mist-kissed dawn of spring about to break again…

Secret Meeting score: 85


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