Modern Nature will be serving up a melting pot of bucolic folk, experimental jazz and psych-tinged indie rock at Sheffield’s Sidney & Matilda this May.
Since the demise of his previous band Ultimate Painting in 2018, Blackpool-born musician Jack Cooper has never stopped looking forward, exploring new musical territory. Only months after the split, he teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Will Young (Moon Gangs; Beak>), drummer Aaron Neveu (Woods) and saxophonist Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers’) to blend introspective songwriting with churning experimentation under the name Modern Nature.
The group released their debut album, How to Live, in 2019. It offered up an alchemic fusion of open-ended, psychedelic song structures, hushed In Rainbows-leaning guitars and motoric beats – all anchored by Copper’s quiet, yearning voice and shaken up, now and then, with a wild saxophone solo. It’s a great album, but their full-length follow-up is even better. Released via Bella Union earlier this year, Island of Noise presents an obvious new peak in Cooper’s discography, combining his celebrated songwriting with an expansiveness coloured by British free jazz stars like saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Alexander Hawkins, bassist John Edwards and violinist Alison Cotton, as well as long-term collaborators Jeff Tobias and Jim Wallis.
On re-reading Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 2019, Cooper was moved to write the quote “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises” on the wall of his workshop and doing so sparked the initial ideas and activity that culminated in this record. The rich imagery and themes of The Tempest have long been a springboard for artists, but it was the setting of an island and the insular framework it represented that appealed as a way of elaborating on the musical and lyrical themes Modern Nature has been exploring since their first record. The album was completed during a relaxation of the pandemic restrictions in summer 2020 and for Cooper and his fellow musicians, its recording came to represent a sanctuary in itself.
Its ambitions may sound lofty, but it’s hard to argue with the end product, which is straightforwardly melodic so as to hold the attention, but abstract enough to spark the imagination, with a sense of mystery and magic running through its core. Lead single ‘Performance’ (listen above) is the first track featuring vocals, and it’s when Cooper’s imagined island starts to come to life. Far from paradise, the island is corrupted by natural disasters, unchecked development, and weaponised gods, while the music – sitting somewhere between Talk Talk and Radiohead – is beautiful but sad, eerie but tender.
What would this “new beginning” on this “holy island” spark us to see within ourselves, Cooper asks above ascendant horns and strings on “Dunes,” if we had the chance? A treasure trove of ideas, both musical and lyrical, attempt to answer that question as the album unfolds.
Sidney & Matilda is one of Sheffield’s youngest venues – the kind of offbeat, industrial watering hole you’d find on a Berlin backstreet. A great place to watch Modern Nature on 9 May.