Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: Midlake - The Courage of Others

I haven't written a new music review in a long time. I don't read them that much anymore, either. I might peak at the number in a Pitchfork review or look at Metacritic to see how people are reacting, but I've found in the last two years that blogs and message boards are far more reliable indicators of what I'll like. 

The problem with these music review websites is that they have to fulfill negative-review quotas. Pitchfork, for example (and because it's the most influential site out there, the only 'indie' blog I read), tosses tepid reviews at big-time records about once a month. They also inflate their reviews if the band is coming to their fest that particular year. Since Midlake's new record, The Courage of Others, got a straight-up bad review, I'm coming to its rescue and not expecting them to be at Union Park in July.

The biggest complaint most people have is that the songs are too deliberate, too mid-tempo. A lot of reviewers poke fun at Midlake for carrying out their vision so thoroughly. Isn't that what people liked about The Trials of Van Occupanther? People encouraged them to dive deeper into their sound, and now they're complaining about it. We all know that they are best listened to when stitching pelts. I think their sound is engaging, unique, and worth pursuing. On The Courage of Others, they really nailed it.  They out-Fleet-Foxed the Fleet Foxes and other bands with bearded dudes in them. Their pastoral, pre-industrial vision demands these songs to be brooding and slow. Life was slow, life was hard, and there were flutes.

Yes, there are flutes on this record. There are quietly fingerpicked guitars, reserved vocals, and communal harmonies. The organic drums stay out of the way only to take command during climaxes and crescendos. "Fortune" is a great little acoustic number, and "Acts of Man" builds to barely a boil, then subsides.

I wanted another "Roscoe" or "Head Home," but I didn't get one. That's my complaint. Really, that's everyone's complaint even if they didn't come right out and say it. I'm glad to have The Courage of Others, though. I'll be at the Midlake show in May, that is if they can make it to the venue without cracking a wagon axle or dying from dysentery. See? Those jokes are way too easy!

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