On top of his regular gig writing for FADER, Duncan Cooper also finds the time to produce entropic pop under the name Wildarms. His new EP, Clear Eyes, is a gleefully eclectic mish-mash of influences, right down to its title—which references Friday Night Lights—and cover—which plasters a giant happy face over a painting by British neo-classicist painter John William Godward. As for the music, the record finds Cooper mixing breakbeats, new-age atmosphere, and jungle rhythms, ultimately creating a sound that bursts with joyful nostalgia. Granted, we've heard it all before, albeit never quite like this.
It fits that Clear Eyes is seeing release via Cascine, a label with a laser-focused dedication to layered electronic pop. Opener "Full Hearts" is a relaxed, gauzy affair with handclaps, bird chirps, and Eastern-inspired pentatonics, not to mention a hip-hop hype man for good measure. "Love Is Just True" turns up the new-age vibes even further, laying a sample that repeats the phrase "two hearts beating as one" over wind chimes and a beat that could have been borrowed from '80s Sade. While the cut-and-paste nature of Cooper's songwriting may sound like overt kitsch on paper, Clear Eyes avoids coming across like a chopped-up Pure Moods comp, largely thanks to his ability to stitch divergent sounds together so seamlessly.
While the tone of the EP mostly remains at a low simmer, the most fun moment may be when Cooper heats things up on "Acceptance." The track starts slow, but around the midway point, it morphs into an ode to '90s rave culture, courtesy of a brain-meltingly upbeat jungle rhythm. It may sound like an odd (or possibly just goofy) direction to take, but the finished product is no less out of place than the bits of smooth R&B and new jack swing found elsewhere on the EP. Clear Eyes ends with "Twice," a marimba-driven island-pop track that's all sandy beaches and vacation vibes. It's both the record's most traditional pop song and the emotional high point. As the track finishes, a young woman's voice—apparently taken from a YouTube video—relates the simple power of a kiss.
Returning to the artwork, it's fitting that Cooper chose a defaced John William Godward painting to represent his music. As the story goes, Godward committed suicide, leaving a note explaining that the world wasn't big enough for both him and Pablo Picasso. Cooper's goal for the EP seems to hinge on the exact opposite sentiment—that there's more than enough room for everyone, no matter how seemingly contradictory their sounds may be. In the end, Clear Eyes often thrives with its unusual pairings, and Cooper's ability to create his own sun-drenched world from such disparate elements is an enjoyable surprise.