The Upshot: Guitar virtuoso brings a sharp sense of loss and change to his glowing, spare arrangements.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
These shimmering songs are full of ellipses, the spaces between guitar notes clouded over with wistful nostalgia for Jack Cooper’s lost seaside childhood. Cooper has gotten a fair amount of ink lately for his quietly subversive, acoustic dueling guitar duo Ultimate Painting (with Veronica Falls’ James Hoare), also rather luminously introspective, but Sandgrown is more personal, with the smell of salt air, the sting of sea breezes, the sharp sense of loss and change running through every track.
Take “Gynn Square,” named for an old-fashioned commercial block near the beach in Blackpool, England, a resort gone slightly to seed. Cooper is up early, who knows why, watching the last vestiges of weekend hedonism fade, (“as the sea spray washed the weekend from the concrete”) and thinking about the ghost of a girl in a deck chair, by the melancholy of the song, lost forever. Cooper’s singing is quiet and natural, his arrangements glowing but spare. Guitar notes are left to hang in the air glittering. Space separates thoughts and images. Lyrics are put together artfully, with embedded rhymes and rhythms, but delivered casually and full of pauses, as if Cooper were just deciding what to say next.
Other songs are slightly more emphatic, like “Stranded Fleetwood Blues” with its shambolic shaken percussion, its backbeat knocking drum beat, its twisting, exploratory guitar lines, or “A Net” which drones in a directed, almost krautish way, though subdued and acoustic. There are a couple of jazz-scented intervals – Django-ish “Sandgrown Pt. 1, Rev. 1,” and also “Pt. 2” — which weave and bobble like gazebo concert band tunes remembered from long ago.
The disc finishes on a particularly pensive note, with the slow moving, hallucinatory “Memphis, Lancashire,” a memory palace song (whose memories Cooper is clearly too young to personally own) about Elvis and maybe also WWI. Guitar chords flutter down, settling, a bass rumbles up from underneath, and Cooper sings wistful, non-linear phrases about music and remembrance. (“And when the crowd goes quiet, I hear myself again.”) There is a gorgeous aching guitar duet near the end, one part arcing out in liquid runs of blue notes, the other flickering in tone-changing chords. It’s enough to make you miss people you never met and long for places you’ve never been. Just beautiful stuff.
Consumer Note: For you vinyl fans, the LP version comes pressed on tangerine-colored wax.
DOWNLOAD: “Memphis Lancashire,” “Gynn Square”