Empathetic rawness: Midlake’s Antiphon

1474944_10151993179362566_1731944824_nMIDLAKE are without a shred of doubt one of my all-time favourite bands. I’m happy to say they’ve enjoyed a stretch of increased media attention in recent years, as the popularity of folk-influenced music in the United Kingdom has continued to grow. If you ever find yourself tuned in to Lauren Laverne’s Radio 6 show then I can almost guarantee that she’ll mention them within half an hour (she seems to be as smitten with the band as I am). But despite this, the Texan folk rockers remain somewhat of an unknown treasure to a lot of people. I am not too optimistic over the prospects of this changing any time soon, but one more Midlake article floating around can hardly hurt the cause.

As a band, Midlake are well-known for having changed their sound in various ways over the years, gradually shifting from the low-fi electronica of Bamnan and Slivercork to the slow and much heavier folk rock of The Courage of Others. Their fourth album, Antiphon, is arguably their most dramatic evolution yet. The change in style this time around was forced in part by the departure last year of lead singer and key songwriter Tim Smith. Smith’s distinctive voice and musical vision were, to some fans, the very core of what Midlake is, and to these fans Antiphon may come as a disappointment. I do not share this sentiment. The remaining members of the band have taken the loss of ‘old’ Midlake and really come through with yet another extraordinary shift in sound.

Guitarist Eric Pulido has stepped into Smith’s shoes as lead singer and does a truly admirable job. Masterfully constructed guitar riffs reminiscent of 1970’s psychedelic rock feature on tracks like ‘Antiphon’ and ‘Vale’. The drumming is absolutely spectacular throughout, though especially hard-hitting in ‘Provider’ and ‘Ages’. The use of flute throughout is a happy nod to the Midlake of old, and some tracks seem to have been written with the traditionalist fans in mind (you could quite easily think that ‘Provider Reprise’ comes from an earlier album).

The only real grievance that I do have is that I find the album’s structure to be lacking somewhat. With Midlake’s past releases I have always felt that the order of the tracks was meaningful somehow. When I listen to Antiphon, however, I find myself unable to think of what song will come next. Perhaps it’s still too fresh in my mind for me to be able to know the track listing, but I fear that the real reason is a relatively rushed production period (around six months) and a subsequently disjointed structure.

For me personally, the attraction to Midlake has always derived from their ability to make listeners feel something. They provide, as best as I can describe it, an empathetic musical experience. The newest album, in all of its rawness, is no exception to this rule. I would advise listening to any of the four albums if you want to see what I’m getting at for yourself, but certainly Antiphon is as good a place as any to begin.