Midlake - The Courage of Others

No comments

I've been waiting for this CD for years, having lived with 2006's The Trials of Van Occupanther long enough to regard each note as a friend.  That may be an exaggeration, but I found its lyrical focus on themes of of "home" and the musical tone as something remarkable that grew to something familiar.  And if only for frequent enjoyment I derive from each listening, it still affects me in ways that only music does.

Midlake's subsequent tour stopped at the East Atlanta Restaurant & Lounge (The Earl), where they played in a corner, on a small raised platform familiar to a lot of emerging, or less fortunate, artists.  As a five member band with many instruments, they all but crawled over each over from one song to the next to play each piece.

I'm pretty sure they were having fun, but it wasn't the outwardly visible type.  They were purposeful in playing their music; they weren't seeking celebrity or adulation.  The music wasn't made to emotinally connect to an audience, but that the crowd enjoyed it was only for the better, it seemed. 

Skip forward a year and their website was practically void of content.  Had the pressures of living on the road broken their spirit?  Skip forward another year, and a couple interviews were published, notably about their current preoccupation with Fairport Convention and other British folk bands from the 1970's.  I wasn't sure what this meant, but hoped that it would not result in a less accessible approach to their music, and particularly not one loaded with extremes of heaps of lyrical depression or self-importance.

In short, a four year wait between releases isn't the formula for audience growth that mostMidlake - The Courage of Others bands seek to follow.  But, I've heard enough from their two releases thus far to trust their instincts.

And so The Courage of Others arrives.  The good news is that the band's acoustical mix has not ventured far from where they left off.  The standard sonic spectrum of drums, guitars, keyboards, etc. is expanded with flute, recorder, dulcimer, autoharp, bassoon, harpsichord, violin...  whatever it takes to make a song sound the way they hear it. 

By comparison with their previous release, the tone of the work doesn't reaffirm things that matter, but rather questions whether we can move beyond our mistakes or whether we will just repeat them.  And it starts from the beginning, in "Acts of Man:"

Great are the sounds of all that live

And all that man can hold

If all that grows

Starts to fade, starts to falter

Oh let me inside, let me inside not to wake.

Or the second, "Winter Dies:"

As the winter dies the earth is brought to life

And a thousand merchant ships sail to find

A worthy village to land and start again

With one more year for a man to change his ways.

The cover of the CD gives a clue - an aged photograph of monkish draped figures in a mirrored image.  It could be said that it's a worthy reflection of the lyrical approach and vocal delivery taken by Tim Smith, who also writes all the songs.

Every word reads as if it's been pored over (which it likely has), exacting in its diction and meaning, even if it doesn't perfectly fit the meter.  Rather than speaking of home and relationships, the majority of songs here voice a somber judgment or an Ecclesiastical observation on men and their shortcomings. 

Musically, the band is fully willing to wrap their sound around Smith's lyrics and delivery.  The varied instrumentation doesn't just carry a beat and melody, but sets the mood and fills the sonic spectrum enjoyably.  For example, a lifting flute might lessen the weight of a downcast vocal, while an underlying electric guitar lead broods and pushes the song along. It all fits together in a way that suggests, duh, it took years to piece it together just so. 

If there's a weakness, it's that the tone is so well maintained throughout the CD that it leaves one asking for a few brighter moments, or even just a single worthy sonic release for a phoenix to rise from the ashes. 

Midlake obviously executed the CD that they wanted it to be, and they deserve credit for that.  But it's likely to fall short of heavy rotation, as Van Occupanther remains more accessible to a listener's moods.  That said, this CD will hold up well over time, even if just for listeners who like to be challenged.

Rating: 4 Stars out of 5 

I couldn't find an official video from the new release, but their website has several from the preceding CD.

No comments :

Post a Comment