I’m on my third spin in a row of Midlake’s newest album -and first without former singer/leader Tim Smith- Antiphon. I will admit that when I first heard the album on NPR’s First Listen I was a little worried. Not that the album sounded bad. That’s not it at all. It’s just that nothing was really sticking out for me. “Provider” was pretty great first time out. And the lead track “Antiphon” was cool in a repetitive sort of way. But besides those songs the rest of the record sort of melted together like a bowl of Neopolitan ice cream in the warm summer sun. Nothing distinctive. Nothing ear-popping. But then the album showed up in the mail on Monday and I was looking at it thinking “Damn. I don’t know if I’m interested enough to even put it on the turntable.” Well I think partly that sentiment was me just being tired and burnt out, and the rest of it was because I was just being an ass. I can say without a doubt that this record is something of a beautiful nugget of sonic mastery. Having the record spinning and me in my chair with a Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porter sitting next to me has created the right atmosphere for me to let it all soak in. The production has that Nigel Godrich feel to it. Everything very meticulously tweaked in with an almost three-dimensional feel to it. These are some of the best drums I’ve heard in quite some time. The record has a downbeat vibe to it(with the exception of the instrumental closer to side A called “Vale” which opens like a storm and the quickly melts into misty morning walk through a sullen woods.) This album is much more like The Courage of Others than I first thought, though only if that album had been fueled more by psych rock and Black Sabbath. It’s dark, yet sultry. There’s a real romanticism to this record that doesn’t reveal itself till a few listens in. It’s as if Tim Smith was the pressure cooker in this band. With him gone these guys can breath as musicians. Lyrically the songs aren’t as vivid as Smith’s renaissance and medieval times storytelling. There are no “Roscoes” roaming about here, but that’s not a detriment here. On the contrary, this just proves that the music makers in Midlake were just as capable of writing a hell of a tune even without their codpiece-wearing leader(no offense, Tim.) Eric Pudillo’s voice is smooth and easy on the ears, though at first he seems to get lost in the songs. Once you get to side two you can hear his true power in the song “Aurora Gone”. It’s a song you could hear Smith being happy to sing(or maybe not?) This is the Midlake of yesteryear juxtaposed on the new and loose Midlake of 2013.
Listen, I’ve gone on long enough. I was dead wrong about this album. I’m a firm believer in first impressions, and I think that’s what makes me a flawed person. I try not to let those first impressions be the be all/end all in my music listening, as there’s been plenty of records I’ve heard in the past that did nothing for me first time through. But that third, fourth, even fifth time through was the magic point where it all came into focus and thing started popping in my head and heart. Antiphon has began popping in my head and heart.
Nice job, guys. Nice job.