Perhaps Paul Smith put it best when he stated “What happens when you loose everything? You just start again, you start all over again” (yes that’s a Maximo Park reference for you people, I’m so modern and up to date) It’s a big question, and one that a particular band have had to face more than most of late.
Halfway through the writing of Midlake’s fourth album, frontman and founder member Tim Smith decided to leave the band. Apparently frustrated that the band weren’t working towards fulfilling his own personal dream for the album he decided to go it alone, only time will tell whether Smith can produce a great album. What he certainly produced was a problem for the remaining members?
To split or to carry on? To start all over again or to plough on with the album they’ve been working on? To bring in a new singer or to step up from the background?
They carried on, they started again and Eric Pulido stepped up to the mic.They made their decisions and Antiphon is the product. So is it any good?
MIDLAKE – ANTIPHON
Midlake burst into the conscious of many with 2006s “The Trials of Van Occupanther” a stunning show of harmony singing with shades of Fleetwood Mac and other classic rock bands. With songs like “Roscoe” & “Young Bride” it melded a rustic, rural setting with stunningly well balanced music and frankly fantastic singing. The follow up “The Courage of Others” took us deeper into prog, and an almost medieval theme. It was dense and complicated, it left me a touch cold if i’m honest but it didn’t entirely turn me off the band, I still felt confident that Midlake would rise again.
Opening track, title track and lead single “Antiphon” had to be a bold statement. It most certainly is! Anitphonal singing is an interesting theme to name an album after. A type of singing, generally church based, which is played alternately by two groups. A call and response if you will.
“Antiphon” opens with an arresting drum roll that instantly creates a mood. The bass is notably high in the mix as, perhaps more surprisingly, are the vocals. It’s a bold statement, there’s no hiding from Pulido, and indeed his step up to lead singer seems to be a seamless one. The casual observer might not even notice this isn’t Tim Smith singing! The lyrics too are coming out swinging the repeated line “fight a war” is obviously full of intent, but Antiphon is a telling title. If Smith leaving was a call this is Midlake response. It’s thrilling, energetic and instantly excites. It might be the highlight of their career.
Second track “Provider” might be even better, rolling out of the opening track the instrumentation and production are stunning. A bed of synths and more prominent bass playing create a beautiful sound bed for crystal clear guitars, an oddly subtle flute and more prominent vocals. There’s a dreamy quality provided by the beautiful instrumental outro lead by an organ, which solos beautifully before looping out with a warm fuzz. The lyrics again seem to hint at the band retaliating to their situation as Pulido sings “onwards forth to land unknown with only hope for seeds to grow”.
“The Old & The Young” completes the opening trio of songs. If the album ended here it would already be stunning. Starting with a bouncing bass line and synth buzz there’s a touch of “Two Dancers” era Wild Beasts to the intro. The lyrics are vague, and pastoral as is the Midlake way. The song progresses well, the repetitive bass line propelling the whole thing along as flutes and guitars work around it. It’s musically complex, each note well balanced and there’s a real touch of genius to the production. A song that could seem over busy and dense is rendered subtle and stunning, it again ends with an instrumental outro, with squalling guitars and the warmth of a synth wash.
After such a strong start to the album with “It’s Going Down” we begin to see the one weakness of the album. There’s nothing wrong with the song, the harpsichord is a nice addition to the sound, the guitar flutters and stabs are wonderful, and again it’s beautifully done. However it does sound an awful lot like what’s come before.
Vale stands out largely for being an instrumental. It’s a strong mid-point and a good introduction for the second half. The tracks remain strong and are all individually good, but it’s hard to spot stand outs. There’s a beautiful subtly but it takes a lot of listening to spot it. “Aurora Gone” is a sister track to Van Occupanther’s “Young Bride”. “Ages” has a heavier edge and the playing has a wonderful sense of freedom recalling Pentangle and even Pink Floyd in places, the prog edge is to the fore and some of the vocal melodies are oddly reminiscent of Field Music.
The album fades a little towards the end “This Weight” and “Corruption” while put together stunningly they lack a touch of melody and nothing much leaps out about them. It’s left to the closing track a reprise of “The Provider” to leave you remembering just how great this record is. Starting with crackles of static and waves of harp before a wall of strings comes in. It’s superbly done and resolves the urgency of the original version into a sweeping, mellow, beauty. It’s superb.
So what can you say about this album? It’s so perfectly balanced and produced that you can’t help but admire it. The playing is fantastic and they don’t seem to be missing the influence of Smith. Having said all that it’s not an easy record to love, it needs attention, the beauty is in the details and a bit of variety would take this from a really good record into a brilliant one.
I can’t end a review of such a good album with a negative. So look back over the early tracks, remember how good Antiphon, Provider and The Old & The Young were and above all enjoy the fact Midlake are still very good indeed and most importantly still going!