2.04.2010

Midlake - The Courage of Others


Over the course of their three full-length albums, Midlake's strongest apparent influence has shifted from Radiohead to Fleetwood Mac and now on The Courage of Others to British folk music that lands somewhere between the Renaissance era and the golden years of Fairport Convention. The Denton, Texas quintet's take on classic folk doesn't come across as cheesy, as sometimes happens when flutes come out to play next to long-sustaining, 70s style guitar distortion. It feels necessary and in service to the somber material, never out of context. The rhythms of these softer songs also undulate a bit more than on their last release, The Trials of Van Occupanther, which was dominated by straight driving beats.

The changes in songwriting have not translated into a substantial change to the studio sound they achieved on Van Occupanther. Still present are the mostly dry drum tracks, and the aforementioned 70s distortion on the lead guitar. One of the other holdovers is Tim Smith's vocals and their central placement in the mix. The tone of his voice sometimes calls to mind Rufus Wainwright or Nick Drake, and the harmonies he employs have become a distinctive calling card for the group. Although, to a greater extent now, a sense of worry and longing pervades both the lyrics and the melodies. The music is slower, and decidely darker than before.

The band has gone from 5 to 7 members for live performances of their new material, partly to allow for the reproduction of the expanded instrumentation featured prominently in songs like "Acts of Man", "Small Mountain" and "Rulers, Ruling Things". There are still some remnants of Midlake's past on the new album. "Children of the Grounds" is very reminiscent of Van Occupanther's uptempo tracks. Another standout is "Core of Nature" that sways along in waltz meter, with a few occasional hiccups of odd-time as Smith sings about "all that waits to be known, and all that will never be known". There are a few of those rhythmic stutters throughout The Courage of Others, and they provide another dimension to the organic nature of this album's musical content. The songs briefly open up into lush orchestration and quickly fall back to a hush. It requires a certain amount of engagement to appreciate to the fullest. For the most part , the prime directive of this record is to make listeners approach it rather than deliver itself fully formed.

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