CD review: Midlake, Antiphon (Bella Union)


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The Independent Culture


Losing a singer isn’t always unproblematic for a band: for all those that thrived afterwards (Genesis, Pink Floyd), there are many who didn’t (Bruce Dickinson-less Iron Maiden, anyone?). Happily, beardy-weirdy Texas psych-folkies Midlake manage to weather Tim Smith’s split with no pinch in purpose or progress. From the first drum roll of the title-track, their fourth album consolidates and explores, cutting into familiar thickets of vintage electric folk while teasing out the odd fresh route through them.

Not too many fields removed from Smith’s voice, guitarist-turned-singer Eric Pulido’s smooth tenor eases the passage. As do Midlake’s meditations on time’s passage and its effects, which remain rooted in nature metaphors and sometimes archaic phrasings; foxholes, winter’s approach and the formulation “on the morrow” all feature. Guitars echo across miasmas of organ, flute, brushed percussion and strings and are welcoming backdrops for bucolic reveries.

It’s not that Smith is forgotten: “Provider” and “Aurora Gone” dwell on ageing and things passing with a graceful acquiescence to inevitability. But the symphonic sequencing – songs blur into each other, dreamily – and luminous details here combine confidence and texture with levity and a spirit of open possibility.

The thick fug of 2010’s The Courage of Others sounded like heavy weather on repeat plays, but Antiphon rewards revisits and makes bright, inviting work of them, especially when the sunburst chorus, ebullient boogie and tribute to constancy of “The Old and the Young” heave into view.

For Midlake, change is nature’s constant: something to harness, even welcome.