The second album from Modern Nature – a project helmed by Blackpool-born musician Jack Cooper, previously of indie duo Ultimate Painting – is designed to leave its audience awed. Noodling instrumentation, reverent silence, vaguely mystical lyrics and almost-whispered vocals all gesture towards profundity – as does the album’s conceit, with Cooper using The Tempest as a springboard for thoughts about a fictional island of his own. It also makes use of the talents of free jazz stars, namely saxophonist Evan Parker and pianist Alexander Hawkins. Island of Noise, in other words, has all the signifiers of a very serious and very worthy creative endeavour.
It might have proved irritatingly pretentious were the end product not quite so mesmerising: abstract enough to spark the imagination, straightforwardly melodic enough to hold the attention. The emotional register is both hopeful and melancholic; the space both minimal and dense – tracks such as Ariel envelop without overwhelming. There are moments, especially when the island’s weather and wildlife are invoked in a more literal way, when it feels as if the album could be put to work as a meditation soundtrack – but it is, ultimately, too compelling for that.
That’s partly thanks to Cooper’s vocal melodies, which feel both instinctive and counterintuitive, and partly thanks to his collaborators. The album opens with Parker’s squiggling sax, strange and small – eventually joined by ponderous piano and gravelly violin – and the instrument crops up in subtler but just as curious guises elsewhere. It helps make Island of Noise a treasure trove of interesting musical ideas, as well as a source of transportive, restorative solace.