Under Review: Midlake – The Courage Of Others

In “Roscoe,” from 2006’s stellar The Trials Of Van Occupanther, Midlake’s Tim Smith alludes to wishing he’d been born in 1891.  While the Texas quintet’s image at the time wasn’t really that Victorian, they have since adopted a style more befitting of 1491.  Midlake’s third album, The Courage Of Others, shifts the influences from its predecessor across the Atlantic (not to mention a few centuries), and comes up with a striking and bewitching set of madrigals, dirges and chants.  Those looking forward to the moody melodicism of Van Occupanther are likely to be disappointed at first, although the close harmonies that so strongly identify Midlake are hardly absent.  In the 4 years that it took for The Courage Of Others to be made, Midlake have embraced the organic, progressive folk sound forged by bands like Renaissance, Steeleye Span and the Pentangle.  Themes of changing seasons (“Winter Dies”) and mysterious encounters (“Rulers, Ruling All Things”), as well as trust and devotion course through the album at a meticulously controlled pace.  No, this is not a rocking record, but it is a fantastically slow one.  Aside from the earthy lyrics, the instrumentation on The Courage Of Others indicates a shift towards the more elegant and baroque.  Guitars are plucked like lutes and harpsichords blend seamlessly with the electronic keyboards that are yet another defining characteristic of Midlake’s music.  It’s not that the band has abandoned its sound in favor of a new one.  Quite the contrary, in fact; they’ve skillfully adapted and integrated new/old elements into the style they’ve already established.

Parts of The Courage Of Others suggest that this album contains ideas originally planned for a number of different records.  Indeed, Midlake spent a good lot of the time after Van Occupanther recording, mixing, scrapping and re-recording a lot of material.  What makes The Courage Of Others so impressive is that it combines all of those ideas expertly, so that electric-infused songs like “Children Of The Grounds” feel at home alongside the pan flutes of “Small Mountain.”  Tim Smith’s voice carries the record through its movements, and the combined voices of the rest of the band add an eerie, ‘people of the forest’ kind of quality.  It will be easy for naysayers to take shots at this album, given how much potential Midlake showed on their last outing.  I would counter that by pointing out how, by releasing an album like The Courage Of Others, Midlake have more than lived up to expectations: they’ve subverted the whole idea of what a breakthrough’s follow-up should sound like.  It’s as though they were just waiting to get themselves noticed before they decided to throw such a curveball.  Admirable moves like that, not to mention the fact that they’re paradoxically making fresh music that sounds inherently old, Midlake maintain their place as a band that both exceeds and defies expectations and explanations.

Click HERE to stream The Courage Of Others (via NPR Music)

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~ by E. on February 3, 2010.

One Response to “Under Review: Midlake – The Courage Of Others”

  1. What a brilliant review. Sharply contrasting the banality of the reviews who simple do not get this album. I won’t forgive Pitchfork, especially, for its slating of such a magnificent effort. The Courage of Others is the best album I’ve heard in years and people are not being patient nor perseverant with it. So quick to dismiss such brilliance and it’s so disappointing. This is an album in every sense of the word and its bafflingly mixed reception, in the US at least, strongly suggests that the digital generation of today has killed that concept.

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