Midlake – Antiphon (Bella Union)
Released 4th November 2013
Louder Than War’s Joe Whyte reviews the new album by American rock band Midlake, one which embraces pyschedelia, prog and classic pop songwriting.
I first came across Midlake in something of a happy accident. I was out in long-gone Glasgow hostelry Barfly in (I reckon,it was a hazy night) 2006 to see then next-big-thing-in-waiting The Earlies. The support band walked onstage looking like a bunch of hicksville undergrads and picked up their instruments. It wasn’t quite an epiphanic moment but this was definitely a group who had something special going on. That band were Midlake and it’s safe to say that the sparse crowd, myself included, were only talking about one thing that night and it wasn’t The Earlies, who to be fair, were rather good too.
Midlake were giving away free promo CD singles that night of their current single, Roscoe, which was an elevated blend of Laurel Canyon folk meets Beach Boys harmonies stirred in with a slightly twisted take on 70’s soft rock (Gawd, what an awful expression!) via Grandaddy’s round-the-campfire weirdness.
The accompanying album The Trials Of Van Occupanther was a pastoral, tripped out delight very much at odds with the then current trend of hairy, folky troubadours doing the rounds. It was almost symphonic in places but with jagged guitars and soaring voices. It was a concept album of sorts; I still have no idea about what. The lyrics are a mish-mash of free association and imagery and it was easily my album of that year.
Having consolidated with The Courage Of Others (2010) Midlake were next seen as backing band for John Grant on his multi-award winning Queen Of Denmark. Things appear to have became difficult for the band at this time and singer Tim Smith announced his departure earlier this year. Guitarist and co-founder Eric Pulido has filled the breach and new album Antiphon is the culmination of the Texas bands latest endeavours.
It’s clear from the opening title track that things have changed a little bit around here; the multi-layered vocals are present and correct but the song itself is very much more “up” than their more recent material. They’ve clearly found their inner rock on this track as the guitars are feedbacking and careening in the background and the drums and bass have a new looseness about them.
The Midlake boys have a background in jazz as youngsters and the musicianship and fluidity of the band has inbued this new phase with a groove and swing that wasn’t always evident in earlier albums. Provider has a little hint of krautrock in the background although the Midlake touchstones of early Brit-psych are evident.
It’s Going Down is a more familiar Midlake; hints of The Flaming Lips and lofi electronica surround floating keys and wind instuments atop the gorgeous minor key vocals. Pulido is an able replacement fronting the band and this new Midlake seem like a natural progression rather than a damn-it-all attempt to keep it alive.
Vale takes the album up a couple of degrees with some clanging guitar noise not unlike The Drones (the Australian ones, not the Manchester punks) and forgoes vocals in lieu of aforesaid guitar carnage. This is psychedelia in the same way Sonic Youth are psychedelic; driving, scorching noise giving way to gorgeous, melodic interludes.
An Antiphon is apparently a style of call-and-response singing, from sea shanties and Gregorian chants. As a response to a main songwriter leaving, it’s quite a clarion call.
3. The Old and the Young
4. It’s Going Down
6. Aurora Gone
8. This Weight
10. Provider Reprise
All words by Joe Whyte. More writing by Joe on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.