BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Midlake: The Courage of Others (Inertia)

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Midlake: Fortune
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Midlake: The Courage of Others (Inertia)

This quintet from Texas -- now on their third album -- has only appeared once previously at Elsewhere, a wonderful track on the collection Secret Love 4. That piece (the sample track posted with that album) was so impressive their name imprinted itself on my memory -- and then this album turns up.

In the absence of hearing much else by them this one seduces on a first hearing and it has lovely pastoral quality which hints at the style of Fleet Foxes (without the stacked up harmonies) and owes a little to California folk-rock of the Seventies.

But there is something else going on here too: when those flutes come in, the vocals offer gentle and beguiling melodies and the drums give taut fills this reminds of nothing less than the more folksy tracks on the first King Crimson album, In the Court of the Crimson King. Not the bludgeoning 21 st Century Schizoid Man or the title track but those (largely forgotten) passages where things drift sideways into fields of waving corn on a warm afternoon.

Just as that KC album was a bridge to prog-rock (but wasn't prog itself) so The Courage of Others exists in a world between folk-rock and prog without falling into the limitations or failings of either camp.

Midlake have created an album which is all of a piece in sustained mood and tone (wistful and reflective, but sometimes driven by big guitar chords) and the songs are about the cycles of Nature and Man (Acts on Man, Winter Dies, Core of Nature through Children of the Grounds to In the Ground).

Writer Tim Smith (as do the Fleet Foxes) favours archaisms in his words which conjure up village life (curiously English for an American band) and times which, while not simpler, were closer to greater truths than you'll find in a shopping mall: "I will let the sounds of these woods that I've known sink into blood and to bone".

There are hints of a more American sound (early James Taylor) in songs like the acoustic picked Fortune: "Down to the valley where the fortunes grow, down to the free, that gathered holy 'round the fire that grows so well".

There is a dakness throughout ("we're all undone in this town") yet the overall effect is of a reflective character -- most of the songs are sung from the first person -- reaching beyond, looking for and finding meaning in the simple things.

Almost a concept album than? Maybe so, but not in bad way.

Midlake have made an understated album with real breadth and depth, and these 42 minutes have been on constant repeat play.

Fascinating. 

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Chris - Feb 2, 2010

While i haven't heard their latest, it sounds like their last effort "The Trials of Van Occupanther" may have passed you by (my apologies if it didn't). Well worth checking out IMHO.

Phil - Feb 4, 2010

I second that. The Trials of Van Occupanther is very good. This one seemed a little flat to me by comparison, on first listen at least. Early days I guess.

Phil - Dec 13, 2010

10 months later...
This album is great. Definitely one of my albums of the year. Evidently a slow-burner for me.

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