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Midlake - The Courage of Others


The Courage of Others

(Bella Union)

Northeast Texas is not a place from which most people are likely to say that the finest of American music is coming these days. Denton, Texas, however was a town named by Paste Magazine in 2008 as America’s best music scene, boasting the homegrown talent of the irrepressible indie songcrafters Centro-matic (and sister group South San Gabriel) along with the bar-sodden country rock should-be-superstars Slobberbone. Another group out of Denton is Midlake, and their star is currently on the rise—more so perhaps than almost any other in the American underground set, particularly in Europe, where they regularly sell out theater engagements. Their latest, The Courage of Others, offers further proof. With their breakthrough, 2006’s The Trials of Van Occupanther, Midlake was pegged as an outfit at some offbeat crossroads of Radiohead’s epic, modern, and internalized art rock and mid-period Fleetwood Mac revelry of dusty-eyed American minor-key pop majesty.

For all the acclaim attached to that album and expectations for a similar followup, Midlake have instead offered the ultimate left turn. In lieu of the sort of tour de force and anthemic strata at Van Occupanther’s core, Midlake dialed it down completely and turned inward with a record that is decidedly more folk, quieter and autumnal but no less epic or entrancing. All the synths are gone—this time all we’ve got are real strings, percussion, woodwinds, and lush layers of voices. Taking more than three years to answer their breakthrough recording, Midlake have conjured a deeply spiritual album that is an homage to the beauty of earth, steeped in the timbres and traditions of English folk, the earliest roots of Americana, and lush, lysergic tones of psychedelic and progressive rock. Tim Smith’s vocals are impassioned and the lyrics throughout are haunted with themes of flora and fauna: “I will take my rest with all creatures who dwell under the smallness of green,” he sings on “Core of Nature.” The record revels in the arcane and baroque, as flute lines weave in and out with textured acoustic guitars. Mellow should not be considered a bad thing. There is nothing bad about this ragingly quiet masterpiece.

donny kutzbach

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