The New Midlake Record: Same Smart Tunesmithing, Slightly More Psychedelic
Although the anticipated deluge of new rock records this year has yet to materialize, what we’ve seen so far is reason for serious optimism. One long-awaited new release is from Midlake. who hail from Texas, so it wasn’t hard for them to get back into the studio to wrap up recording For the Sake of Bethel Woods. Interestingly, the new vinyl album – streaming at Bandcamp – is far less gothic than The Trials of Van Occupanther, their high-water mark so far, which was reissued a couple of years ago. This one is arguably their hardest-rocking and most concise, yet also most psychedelic release. Otherwise, frontman/guitarist Eric Pulido’s artsy tunesmithing and thoughtful lyricism haven’t changed much. For whatever reason, escape is a recurrent theme here.
The backstory is even more fascinating. As the band tell it, keyboardist/flutist Jesse Chandler’s dad, whom he’d lost in 2018, appeared to him in a dream and encouraged him to pull the group back together. The rest is history.
After a single, tensely strummed verse contemplating isolation and “the ones who came before,” the band launch into the title track, akin to the Church at their vintage 80s peak with more skittish rhythm.
Floating, spare guitar from Pulido and Joey McClellan follow an exchange with Eric Nichelson’s keys, wafting over Chandler’s terse piano hooks in the title track, a brisk, catchy escape anthem.
The band start with a similarly tense, loopy Vampire Weekend-style faux-soukous riff and build it into starry rock in the third track, Glistening. Drummer McKenzie Smith’s pulse grows heavier behind the fuzzy/sleek dichotomies in Exile: imagine Radiohead covering the Church in 1999.
Feast of Carrion comes across as a mashup of Elliott Smith and the Alan Parsons Project, its uneasy harmonies broken up by a cheery flute solo midway through. Noble, the album’s most Radiohead-inspired track, was inspired by Smith’s son, who although afflicted with a rare genetic condition is by all accounts happy and well adjusted.
Drifting flute, keys and Pulido’s low-key vocals float over Smith’s steady strut in the next track, Gone.
Meanwhile could be a Jeff Lynne jazz tune from, say, ELO’s New World Record album, switching out the strings for balmy keys and flute.
“Enter a cautionary tale not for the faint of heart,” Pulido warns over spare electric piano and muted staccato guitar as the band gather steam in Dawning. “Fading, a glass menagerie, built upon what’s left of the years of misery.”
The End is not the Doors classic but an original: wary atmosphere and uneasy harmonies notwithstanding, it seems to be optimistic. “Nobody’s coming to hunt you down,” is the mantra. The album’s final and most psychedelically pulsing cut is Of Desire. It’s refreshing to see this band still intact and still putting on a clinic in smartly crafted songcraft, everything in its right place, no wasted notes.