Originally released November 4th 2013. Review originally published December 20th 2013.
They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In the case of Midlake, the reverse it seems was true, with the band seemingly on the brink of implosion after the departure of mentor/leader Tim Smith, the odds seemed against the Texans continuing a career which had to that point been studded with some inspired, if slightly esoteric, music.
Their history reads like DIY guide to achieving self conscious brilliance, from the elegant wash of 2004’s The Trials of Van Occupanther, through a seminal contribution to John Grant’s redemptory débutQueen of Denmark, on to their own, folk inspired follow up The Courage of Others. If much of their output had been largely stoic but occasionally stunning – the heavenly melodies of Van Occupanther’s stand out track Roscoe having become both a torch and a millstone – then the band’s first action after Smith’s departure was atypically energetic. Rather than wring their hands over large chunks of abortive sessions that would never see the light of day, guitarist Eric Pulido slid over into the chair, and the shock proved to be galvanising in extremis, as within a mere six months Antiphon was in the can.
Like a comfy sweater, it’s a record that contains few nasty surprises, as the opener wields keyboard phrases from the erstwhile newbie Jesse Chandler and the harmonies which have watermarked the Midlake sound to date slip efficiently into place. If they’d scored this record as an essay themselves, they’d probably have scribbled in the margins “Progress” in red, a fact corroborated by a major stride towards the indie phrasings of The Shins (On the gently oscillating The Old & The Young). As a flip side they manage to cram in a few moments of discordant weirdness to square that circle during the second half of Provider, a peek into something that warrants more than Pulido or someone else diverting themselves with a solo project.
It has to be said that these are minor forks in the road rather than a super highway through the determindley erudite reputation the band have built over the last near fifteen years. To emphasise this the patchwork folk of Aurora Gone uses flute like it’s the most natural thing in the world to hear on a rock record, whilst Corruption is as typically opaque as anything their critics might want to point to.
Smith or no Smith then, the show must go on. And on reflection there are few other bands by which you would expect the tsunami of complete reinvention to end up washing onto shore as less than a ripple. Long live being becalmed.