After failing to think of many bands who continued to release worthwhile music after the departure of their lead singer, I was hesitant to approach the new album by Midlake. Whilst a band should be a sum of all its members, the singer holds this charismatic weight at the centre and without it it can be a shell of it's former self. Midlake found themselves in this unenviable position when front man Tim Smith left the band last year but, despite the departure, the Texan rock group might prove themselves to be an exception to the rule with their new album Antiphon.
On the groups fourth album and first with the altered line-up, guitarist Eric Pulido steps up as front man and does so with ease, as well as bringing in two new members to fill in on guitar and bring in a greater variety of instruments to the mix. The Texas band often look across the Atlantic for inspiration, taking in the gentler side of classic rock, folk and early progressive rock.
Antiphon opens with the title track, and Pulido steps up right away with his voice, that has a soft edge that conceals the discord breaking out within his lyrics as he repeats 'Fight a war'. The track builds slowly held together, and as is the case with much of the album, with some melodic bass playing and restless drumming whilst staccato guitar chords strike. Ages shows the band's musical prowess as they steadily unravel a tale then in track's final minute the song reaches a peak with the crashing drums and guitars roll in like a storm at sea. Corruption tells a Grandaddy-style science fiction story of space travel, opening with the line 'We went to the moon with oil tycoons'. Despite the outlandish subject, Pulido's voice manages to have a down to earth qualities that holds it together, especially its lush, floating instrumental break at its centre as a piano line guides the skittish jazz drumming.
The instrumental track Vale feels a bit unfocused at the centre of the album, still the band seem to be having fun making a surprisingly noise-filled racket around a descending bass line, bringing the distortion and a little aggression that we haven't really seen from the group and it's juxtaposed nicely with a quite lull of clean guitars and strings before it kicks off. The band clearly took they're time playing with different sounds through the making of this album, from the synthesizers on Provider to the harpsichord on the Grizzly Bear-like It's Going Down evoking a pastoral scene. Whilst the far ranging number instruments used creates variety through the album, there are a few moments, like with the flutes seem to risk falling into folk cliché, but they avoid Jethro Tull comparisons.
Pulido doesn't have the same weight to his voice as Tim Smith but still shows himself to be a capable front man and the increased emphasise on well written backing vocals really stand out. Together the band are able to create a sense of a narrative journey wrought with drama in their song writing. There is also a level of detail and subtleties in the recording, from string flourishes to quiet electronics that show up with repeated listens. Long time fans may be split about the line up change, but the band sound as focused and cohesive as they ever have, but also freer to experiment, try out new ideas and even if there are the odd missteps along the way the end product is still in intriguing listen. Antiphon shows that, despite the line up change, Midlake are not to be written off just yet.
Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk