Head out from the city centre, take a train or a bus, walk or cycle, but make sure you’re always heading outward. What do you see? Many still have the idea that the world is broke up into two: the city and the countryside, two contrasting places and never the twain shall meet. Yet reality is of course, not quite like that. In the centre of every burgeoning metropolis, you still do occasionally find something green, a little spark of the countryside and of space. Likewise a village wouldn’t be a village without a road, a post office, a local pub, little sparks of urban-living in the lush nothingness of rural life. For Modern Nature, the new project of Jack Cooper and Will Young (not that one we assume but can’t actually confirm), there was a desire to chart those middle grounds, the places where the two contrasting worlds rub against one another and the sparks of friction fly. The result is the band’s debut album, How To Live, out this week on Bella Union.
Fans of Jack Cooper from both his solo work, and previous bands, Ultimate Painting and Mazes, might initially be struck by how different Modern Nature feel. While those previous bands were very much routed in the human experience, musical worlds full of life being lived, on Modern Nature, he’s got a little more cerebral. The band approached the album less as a series of songs, and more like a film, using sharply defined re-occurring themes, musical patterns and lyrical content. It’s the clever layering of instruments that lifts the music and prevents the repetition slipping into inactivity, with bold splashes of jazzy saxophone and quietly imposing waves of cello.
How To Live is a fascinating listen, initially challenging perhaps, yet digging beneath the surface it slowly begins to make sense, the patterns and twists in the band’s musical stories emerge and the depth of the piece begins to shine through. Celebrating the album’s release, today Jack has made us a mixtape inspired by the rural sounds of London, featuring the likes of Nick Drake, Damon Albarn and Genesis.
Rural London sounds like a contradiction, but to me London has always felt very green and bucolic. When visiting my auntie in Maida Vale as a kid, spending afternoons in the pockets of nature in town or exploring the fields and trees that surrounds Waltham Forest where I live, London is filled with nature and peace if you know where to find it. These songs share a similarly hazy aesthetic and go some way to conveying how I feel about our adopted home.
1. Damon Albarn – Hollow Ponds
I suppose most associated with Camden, Albarn is actually from Leytonstone, two streets over from where I live. This is his ode to the series of ponds that sit at the bottom of Epping Forest. Cinematic and beautiful… you can hear the dew evaporating to a haze above the flats.
2. Nick Drake – Parasite
When I think of the country lanes that wind around the side of Highgate Cemetery and Hampstead Heath, I think about photos of Nick Drake, framed by ivy as the world blurs around him.
3. Fairport Convention – Farewell Farewell
Richard Thompson’s take on ‘Willy O’ Winsbury’; a eulogy to his girlfriend Jeannie Franklin and Fairport drummer Martin Lamble who died in a car crash as the band returned to London after a show. No band sounds like the tree lined suburbs of North London quite like Fairport.
4. Linda Lewis – Hampstead Way
I’m really in love with this album at the moment and this song in particular… It’s not a particularly great song but I love the way it sounds. I got to Linda Lewis via a long term fascination with Robert Wyatt who was her housemate. A very unique sounding record with shades of Minnie Riperton.
5. Donovan – Sunny Goodge Street
Just behind Goodge Street, there’s a tiny hidden garden where people take their lunch and this, Donovan’s finest hour is a similar oasis. Gently propelled by London’s finest jazz players, it sounds like lying in the grass as the city towers behind the trees.
6. Peter Tosh – Buk-In-Hamm Palace
I listened to this last year lay in Green Park, the palace looming in the distance and my headphones dotted with the sounds of tourists and the crackle of fountains. ‘Mystic Man’ isn’t Peter Tosh’s best record but this is perfect.
7. Ralph Vaughan Williams – A London Symphony
Williams’ second symphony incorporates the sounds of the city… the hum, clatter and bells. The Hampstead Heath movement is serene and woozy. Richard King writes far more eloquently than me about Williams and his music’s relationship to the countryside in his recent book ‘A Lark Ascending’. I find it almost impossible to write how this one makes me feel.
8. Genesis – The Battle Of Epping Forest
Inspired by newspaper articles about rival East End gangs that’d meet up to fight in the forest that borders London. I live on the very edge and it’s a very weird place… Genesis sum up that madness.
How To Live is out August 23rd via Bella Union. Click HERE for more information on Modern Nature.