Album review: Midlake, Antiphon (Bella Union)

Album of the Week: Mystery men find renewed courage in a crisis

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The Independent Culture

When bands lose their creative leader, they usually collapse in on themselves, confirming just how much effort the departed member had expended pulling their train. In a few cases, the vacancy is filled from within – as when Roger Waters replaced Syd Barrett as Pink Floyd's main songwriter, and Bernard Sumner filled the gap vacated by Ian Curtis. Such is the case with Midlake: when attempts to follow up 2010's folk-rock masterpiece The Courage of Others stalled, songwriter Tim Smith quit the band, who subsequently re-grouped around second singer-guitarist Eric Pulido and recorded Antiphon.

While still noticeably Midlake, the album propels the group off in yet another direction, the more rustic elements supplanted by psychedelic, prog-rock tendencies in which the layered keyboard textures and jazzy drumming reflect the players' background as music students. The lush harmonies and enigmatic melodies remain, but you get the sense that the band is stretching out a little more. The title-track – named after call- and-response choral singing – features harmonies that sharp and flat over smooth, exploratory bass and keyboards, while the tunes to "This Weight" and "Aurora Gone" evade the most obvious course, but lodge themselves more tenaciously as a result.

Smith's influence has understandably rubbed off on Pulido, judging by the historical tone of "Provider" ("Onward, forth into a land of gold/ Swords were drawn upon the road") and the themes of science and religion, society and antiquity in "Corruption" and the standout track, "The Old and the Young". Set to a loping boogie bassline, it tackles the passage of time in a less metaphorical manner than on previous albums, and with a lighter spirit, the singalong chorus possessing a buoyancy that Smith's songs tended to avoid. It's far from a perfect album – there's a ponderous solemnity to "Ages", and Pulido so far lacks Smith's compelling, visionary focus – but Antiphon extends the band's engaging, mysterious charm.

Download: The Old and the Young; Antiphon; Provider; Aurora Gone