MIDLAKE – The Courage of Others (2010)

Yesterday, I wrote about Citay; specifically, how I thought the band seemed to be more concerned with our perception of their songs than with the actual songs themselves. This is a tricky thing to pin down – after all, not all artists create albums that live or die with their sincerity. But when you’re tapping the veins of musical courses that have been run repeatedly into the ground over the past several decades, sounding genuine really is important. The harder you strain for this legitimacy, the more we notice it. Regardless, it’s hard to put to into words, save to say that when you hear it, you’ll know. Me? I think Citay were trying too hard. They played like puppets, and I saw their strings. On the other hand, Midlake, with The Courage of Others, get it just right.

For the uninitiated, Midlake have a very full-bodied approach to folk music. They embrace ensemble instrumentation, and they’re not afraid to use a distorted electric guitar here or there to get their point across. Perhaps the band that did this best in ages past was Jethro Tull; now it goes without saying, of course, that Midlake aren’t a clone of the aforementioned band – they merely share in their affinity for chamber-folk romanticism. It’s hard to listen to The Courage of Others and not hear that passion in every song. Comparatively, this is a more intimate album than The Trials of Van Occupanther was. It’s quieter, and the production is more open (everything has more breathing room here). Not to mention the songs themselves are more mellow and low-key. For example, Core of Nature (the album’s best song) is about the most intense this album ever gets, and even its deliberate melodies (and its occasional noisy guitar accents) ebb into mild points of serenity. This is definitely the most peaceful album I’ve heard all year. As a bonus, “peaceful” here does not also mean “boring.” There’s a lot going on here – you just have to, you know, listen.

Midlake never quite got the attention they deserved for The Trials of Van Occupanther, and I suspect the same will hold true for The Courage of Others. This is an album that will probably fly under most people’s radars. See, the people nowadays in the position to hear an album like this would probably regard it (an album of unapologetically earnest folk songs) with a displaced sense of irony or bitterness. The attitude seems to be that if you’re embracing lush melodies and harmonies, and you’re not making a pop album (a la Grizzly Bear), then you’re a generational anomaly. Current trends aside, though, The Courage of Others is likely to make an impression on you if you give it chance. Just don’t complain about its prettiness. That is, after all, the point.

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