Coming off the back of the departure of former frontman Tim Smith, the latest album from folk-rockers Midlake is a record with the unenviable task of coming up with a new band dynamic. It may be band’s fourth release, but following the loss of such a central figure it has a lot to achieve.
‘Antiphon’ is certainly different to anything Midlake’s previous output, but it is difficult to say exactly how and why. It certainly sounds different to what they’ve done before, with Eric Pulido stepping up to the mic to provide lead vocals this time out, but that’s not exactly the real reason.
‘Antiphon’ is such a relaxed, free-wheeling collection of music that it is hard to picture it as a statement of intent. A statement of a new direction should be big and bold, whereas all of the good things about ‘Antiphon’ are subtle and infectious. It has no big moments of rock energy – except for the incredible hook of the chorus on title track Antiphon. Instead the album is a myriad of little details of invention. It coasts along to a soothing rhythm, slowly revealing a raft of minute musical gems that only come together on repeat listens.
‘Antiphon’ is the sound of a band slipping naturally into a comfort zone, but they do so knowingly, without the complacency that this might suggest. The best thing about the blend of indie folk and progressive rock that the band have made their own is that it seems effortless. It shouldn’t be this easy to step across the artificial barriers of genre, but Midlake do it with slick ease.
Thus, tracks like The Old and the Young and Provider segue from folky rhythmic choruses to falling breakdowns and long drawn out, dreamy instrumentals. It’s Going Down goes full on Pink Floyd, pilling a collection of off-beat riffs onto the laconic flow of the vocals to build a soundscape that flows like butter. Plenty of the sounds on ‘Antiphon’ would sound jarring in isolation, but put them all together and it rocks serenely like a prog lullaby.
The album’s latter stages slow what was already unhurried pace down to the speed of a grass growing. Midlake to become pensively introspective, with a soul-searching instrumental Vale and the Jethro Tull-esque folk-inspired weirdness of Aurora Gone.
But despite letting themselves float into some space-age guitar solos on Ages, Midlake never really let their hair down and rock out. ‘Antiphon’ hints at a build to something greater, but never quite takes the leap. It’s a little too perfect. Even the faster track are so well composed and retrained that they sound slower than they actually are.
Despite reaching what they’ve always seemed to be building to, Midlake still sound like a folk band that have listened to a bit too much Radiohead, and have decided to purge all of the dirty, messy chaos in favour of tightly executed perfection. It probably wouldn’t hurt to let a bum note slip into the mix somewhere.
If you like Midlake, we recommed you check out Irish band Come On Live Long