It isn’t often that I hear an album that feels tailor-made for me. Modern Nature’s debut album, How To Live might be it. Bounding off the tails of the twelve-minute epic “Supernature” from the supergroup’s debut EP, Nature, vocalist Jack Cooper (ex-Ultimate Painting), keyboardist Will Young (BEAK>) and drummer Aaron Neveu (Woods) climb to great heights, enhancing their already entrancing compositions with the induction of cellist Rupert Gillett and saxophonist Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers). It’s Young’s work with BEAK> and Portishead instrumentalist, Geoff Barrow that stunningly complements Cooper’s vision for Modern Nature, blossoming into an astonishing slow-burning tension. In How To Live, the rural and the urban unite; isolation is in decline and endless beauty surfaces.
The band name Modern Nature was taken from filmmaker Derek Jarman’s diaries, written in his Dungeness cottage on the coast of Kent. Cooper visited Jarman’s home, instantly struck by the “weird mix of urban and rural” – like having a nuclear power station beside open grasslands. Enclosed in How To Live’s immersive 42 minutes, Modern Nature continuously weaves in that odd, albeit terrifying curiosity, and create their own world.
“There’s a hum in the street,” Cooper almost hums himself for the first line of the album. “Footsteps” follows the trancelike “Bloom,” led solely by Gillett’s somber cello – evocative of Ramin Djawadi’s finest work on Game Of Thrones, Modern Nature immediately promise some post-punk, a homage to classical music, and ceaseless surprises. In the meantime, “Footsteps” addresses the rinse-and-repeat process of our everyday working lives. “The click repeats, repeats, repeats…” slow-burning and hypnotic, Tobias makes his sublime first entrance. While Cooper’s vocal hardly rises above a whisper, Tobias takes the opportunity provided by the slow build and lets out a wailing saxophone solo. In the music video, a young man dives into the sea as the saxophone shrieks. He’s escaping a dreary, hectic environment like we all wish we could.
In “Nature,” however, Modern Nature is longing for a new destination. Holding a much darker outlook on our current environment and landscape, Cooper calls our environment “the great failure” before tackling humanity’s bloodlust for our own; citing the imperative to “lock them up and don’t forgive them.” Cooper’s guitar work, often gorgeous, is as gritty and raw as his words. The idea of escape recurs in the psychedelic album closer, “Devotee,” with the guidance to “leave all you can behind.”
Resembling the emotional outburst of saxophone in “Footsteps,” Young and Neveu take center stage just when you think “Devotee” contains a hidden track. Young’s ingenious arrangement celebrates take off and melts into Neveu’s motorik beats. Elegiac cello strains, circling synth and equally expressive guitar loops make quite the team in album highlight, “Criminals.” Like pop sensation Sia’s frequent writings of high-flying birds as a symbol of freedom and sense of communion, Cooper also needs to fly free, in order to evade “drowning in the rising sea.” As for the disorienting “Nightmares,” Young’s pulsing synth guides a refusal to surrender. Saxophone waves, again, meditatively lure into another realm. Album notes for “Nightmare” succinctly describe the song as “the calm after the storm, nihilism, acceptance!! HOW TO LIVE??” Modern Nature isn’t alone in trying to figure it out. Cyclical themes, ideas, and sounds contribute to the intended endless feel of How To Live, forming a universe that already feels lived-in.
But, it’s “Peradam” that crucially adds to the timelessness of How To Live. As a long-time Radiohead fan, “Peradam” is the first song to ever truly capture the essence of what makes the band so exceptional. It’s not just that the track resembles In Rainbows’ “Reckoner” – from the wistful percussion to a similarly stunning guitar loop, it’s that “Peradam,” reveling in the cycles of nature, also crafts the same vibrant, unforgettable journey before gradually lulling away. It captures that exact trippy dream Thom Yorke explains when describing “Reckoner,” the kind of dream you never want to wake up from. In How To Live, it seems that songs don’t end or begin. That continuous flow delivers solace, the kind that’s become harder and harder to find.
The question is: how on Earth did Modern Nature do it? On their debut album, Modern Nature has successfully merged motorik beats a la Portishead and Can, with the atmospheric folk of Nick Drake, and paid homage to krautrock legends, Harmonia. Cooper’s 2017 concept album, Sandgrown – a collection of tracks dedicated to his hometown of Blackpool – had him set on approaching How To Live with a narrative, recurring chord progressions, and numerous films, books, and places were brought in as additional motivating forces. Bandmates Will Young, Aaron Neveu, Jeff Tobias and Rupert Gillett have added their diverse influences and collective experiences to shape what’s sure to be a modern classic. Why don’t you jump in and find your own stories within?