There’s something about the singer-songwriter genre these days that leaves little to be desired. We live in a world where artists such as Dallas Green and Passenger easily surpass genres, flawlessly bringing together the likes of pop, folk and more for eager fans. With such musical forces, it’s easy to forget there are new voices keeping the acoustic-folk tradition alive. That’s where Australian troubadour Hein Cooper comes in.
Whimsical, hazy and mellow are only a few words to describe Cooper’s refreshing indie folk album The Art of Escape (March 2016 via Indica Records) by an artist who is yearning to strike a balance between chill acoustic songs and blissful pop. With soulful tunes that effortlessly make you pipe up your ears, Cooper invites listeners to be enchanted as he mesmerizes them with his magnetic sound. He recorded The Art of Escape in Montreal with the same producer who worked with Arcade Fire and The National, after being discovered in a small bar by the manager of Half Moon Run.
Watch: “The Art of Escape” – Hein Cooper
The city of Montreal, Canada is a world away from Sydney, Australia. When I think about Australia, several things come to mind. The salty ocean carrying surfers along, people sporting a beautiful sun kissed glow, and Tame Impala. But Cooper gives new imagery to the sunny continent.
He has the ability to captivate listeners from the moment he begins singing. He possesses voice that adds depth to his minimalist songs. It is golden and pure and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up from the first moment you hear his honeyed vocals. There is no strain as he hits high notes with ease, making for a serene experience. Each track is abundant in candid lyrics that critically examine the mind of a dreamer, in a euphoric tone that seems to swerve between subtle crooning and passionate balladry. The most useful and marketable characteristic any singer can possess is a unique voice, and Cooper easily contorts his angelic vocals, bending them over the folk-twang accompaniment of guitar plucking and piano chords.
The record begins with “The Art of Escape,” a track that plays with lyrics that paint a lush image of the forest and the sea. The overarching theme of nature sweeps through the record and gives it a vision. Upbeat songs like “Rusty” do this effectively, giving off summery Jack Johnson vibes of relaxing under the sun. It’s simple and sweet and has a touch of Tom Odell as Cooper’s voice pierces through the waves of hollowness. With the relaxedness of someone who is coming into his own and is enjoying finding his voice, Cooper easily triumphs in the song’s euphoric harmonies.
Watch: “Rusty” – Hein Cooper
“Overflow” showcases Cooper’s ability to craft a sly but catchy pop song that could easily be seen as a glossy moment of jubilance. Featuring quirky whistling and a memorable melody, it stands out as the song that has the potential to hit radio waves hard.
One of the most fun things to do as a child is to yell into the wind, and hearing it carry the sound back to you as an echo. Even if you explode and raise your voice as loudly as you can, it dances away on the breeze. That’s exactly what “Overflow” accomplishes: it erupts in emotion and buzzes with wit. It merits more than one listen.
On the pulse of a creative breakthrough, Cooper navigates the world of new love and heartbreak. The track “Curse My Life” is a dark lullaby that thrives on fragile intimacy. He positions himself as an escapist, inhaling what he knows to be true about himself and refusing to wallow in what he does not. Cooper wrote the album when he was 18 and now six years later at age 24 he has fully grown into his sound.
I don’t know myself
I don’t know what it feels like to have my heart broken first
Big melodies and harmonic vocals create a calming but pensive outlook that encapsulates what temporal discontinuity feels like. There is a tension between the past and present, as Cooper sings about the seasons changing and moving on on tracks such as “Dopamine” where he feels free to embrace all the tranquil vibes he emits.
His influences include Ben Howard, Radiohead, Bon Iver, Beck, City and Colour, and Jeff Buckley. Their impact is undeniable: Cooper is able to criss-cross between each of their sounds, transcending the different genres.
When you think you have Cooper’s sound completely figured out, along comes distinctive track “The Real,” which is a beautiful experimental art piece that tests echoey synths and melancholy vocals. It feels like an attempt to prevent stumbling into madness as reality and hallucinations become blurred in Cooper’s world. The bridge is a glimpse of sunshine, as a crack of happiness allows for the warmth to flood in and cast a wave of haziness over the listener. It has a Chet Faker tone to it, and completely stands on its own in contrast to the rest of the record. It manages to be contagious, and offers an unexpected pleasurable outcome that hopefully hints at where his sound will be headed in the future.
Watch: “The Real” – Hein Cooper
“Water” is dizzyingly beautiful, a kaleidoscope of layered harmonies and drums that softly thump along in time with Cooper’s declaration to “be more kind.” It’s the sound of the world crashing in when it rains and cleanses you of your feelings. It sounds less like a plea to be drowned and more Cooper embraces it fully, fuelled by rogue waves of emotion. There is John Mayer-y touch to the guitar that leaves a hint of intrigue in listening to something that is not clearly graspable. What is the core aim of the album? What is the story we are following? The listener travels through the mountains, the beach and everything in between trying to connect to another world.
The album finishes on a high note as it flourishes in moments of brilliant clarity where Cooper is self-aware of getting outside of his own head. This gives breathing room for soaring falsettos to blend in with a sense of broodiness.
The Art of Escape is an echoey foray into the world of indie folk, that has high aspirations and makes for a pleasant debut. Overall, it’s a record that sneaks up on you, winking at you unexpectedly out of nowhere and beckoning to be heard. The results are engaging and make you eager for more. Each song matters, and each one makes you appreciate the genuineness of an artist who is maturing with every chord.