Midlake
The Courage Of Others


2.5
average

Review

by Tyler Fisher EMERITUS
January 26th, 2010 | 19 replies


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Lyrically, Midlake successfully trades whimsical for depressive, but they forgot to compose interesting music to accompany the mood.

When Fleet Foxes hit the blogosphere in 2008 with the debut self-titled album, I did not believe the hype. I recalled the mountain man, hermit-in-a-cabin aesthetic from somewhere else: Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther. Of course, Fleet Foxes did not perform a direct ripoff; they certainly played up the isolated aspect of the folk aesthetic much more than Midlake. If Fleet Foxes were the hermits in a cabin seemingly transported from another age, then the members of Midlake were the wise old men who remembered the rural ways of life and decried today’s modernity (see “Roscoe”, “Head Home”). Yet even musically, I found Fleet Foxes inferior. They could not compete with the variety of harmonic structures that Midlake used on their brilliant sophomore album. The vocal harmonies Midlake used opened and closed, and the amount of orchestration was unparalleled.

Four years later, Midlake have finally risen again with The Courage of Others. They still retain that folky, rural aesthetic, but instead of seeming like the whimsical, wise raconteur, they seem more like the grumpy old man who hates seeing kids run across his lawn. The music takes a decidedly darker, slower note, further delving into the folk rock of The Trials of Van Occupanther and losing the powerful orchestration that made Van Occupanther so special.

Lyrically, the album is not really at fault. Tim Smith consistently composes lyrics of powerful metaphor, retaining that same theme of condemning modernity. He makes the shift from the whimsical “Roscoe” and other earlier work to the agitated, reclusive “Rulers, Ruling All Things”, the lyrical centerpiece of the album. In fact, the entire tone of the album could easily be summarized in the song’s hook, “I only want to be left to my own ways/The rulers of one leaving all things undone.” While before, Smith reveled in the joy of roaming around with bandits, he seems to have lost that joy, encapsulated by “Core of Nature”: “I will train my feet to go on with the joy/A joy I have yet to reach.” Indeed, The Courage of Others is a misnomer, a red herring, as the title track closes with “In the dark room he trembles alone/He trembles alone.”

The music accompanies the solemnity of Smith’s lyrics well, but unfortunately, it appears that Midlake only knows how to compose “sad” in one way. Gone are the dancing strings and oboes that once floated on top of the folk atmosphere, and the band replaces them only with flutes, which grow stale after a few uses. Instead of expansive vocal harmonies covering bass-baritone to countertenor, the singers turn everything down a notch in energy and pitch. The harmonies do not seem like a key aspect of the music left to stand for themselves as they did on Van Occupanther. They act more towards the purpose of embellishing Smith, whose voice dominates the rest of the ensemble consistently throughout the album. Thus, rather than stating lyrics as a full band, Smith makes the choices, and the band simply follows along.

At the core structure of the music, not much varies from song to song. Everything falls in the same mid-tempo, down-tuned-chord drudgery that is hypnotic in the same way that watching a pendulum swing is hypnotic. At the end of the album, nothing remains but a dull wash of grey. Of course, there are redeemable moments. “Core of Nature” utilizes a 7/4 groove, providing a bit of rhythmic variety to the palette. Admittedly, “Children of the Grounds” is mildly uptempo. But still, the tone of the album – acoustic guitars embellished occasionally with electric lead, flutes, and piano; Tim Smith leading the vocal charge weakly accompanied by his bandmates – never falters.

I found it shocking that the members of Midlake met as jazz students at the University of North Texas – a university with one of the best wind programs in the country. Is The Courage of Others a rejection of the complicated harmonies and rhythms certainly drilled into them through their jazz education? After four years, Midlake has emerged with a shockingly stripped down sound; unfortunately, they lost all of the harmonic interest that came with their more intricate, varied sound. The Courage of Others is truly a disappointment from a band with the intelligence and capability of doing so much more.



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user ratings (78)
Chart.
3.5
great
other reviews of this album
Rudy K. STAFF (3.5)
The Courage of Others finds Midlake firmly situated in 1972 via 1821, a challenging but altogether r...

J. Ponton EMERITUS (2.5)
Not the earthy type? Well, I’m afraid you may be out of luck....


Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
January 26th 2010


10510 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

damn everyone is on top of their shit recently

Digging: Caribou - Our Love

Infernis
January 26th 2010


398 Comments


Aw, this is depressing, I really enjoyed Trials.

Ponton
Emeritus
January 26th 2010


5806 Comments


good review, sir. I agree obviously.

Digging: Ben Howard - I Forget Where We Were

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
January 26th 2010


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Yeah, sorry man. I didn't mean to step all over you. I didn't see your review, which is quite good as well.

Ponton
Emeritus
January 26th 2010


5806 Comments


Oh, it's cool. This one is definitely better. Thanks, though.

DoubtGin
January 27th 2010


6752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

lol, one of my favourite albums released this year.. that voice is awesome

GnarlyShillelagh
Staff Reviewer
January 27th 2010


6180 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Good review. I agree about the overpowering vocals, but I kind of liked this album. This was my first dip into the Midlake (get it?) so I may not realize how bad this is compared to their back-catalogue. It certainly has piqued my interest though. Any suggestions for what album by them I should check out next?

Zizzer
February 2nd 2010


915 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Trials of Van Occupanther is splendid.

I'm still up in the air on this one as I haven't listened to it much without being busy, but I don't see it less than a 3 from me.

OliverCampbell
February 3rd 2010


66 Comments


super stoked to hear this, despite the reviews. Van Occupanther is the best so far though.

Mendross
February 12th 2010


392 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'm sad to see this get an average rating; I was just getting into this band. I wonder what would be better this or finally checking out Fleet Foxes.

klap
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2010


10510 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i liked it

Mendross
February 12th 2010


392 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

More then Fleet Foxes?


klap
Staff Reviewer
February 13th 2010


10510 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this album, no. van occupanther, yes

TRMshadow
March 21st 2010


4982 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Crap, I'll admit that this isn't the most amazing piece of music ever made, but come on. it's better than a 3.1 Average

jingledeath
April 14th 2010


7104 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Went into this expecting it to be average and it's definitely no Van Occupanther but so far it's is sounding pretty good.

Zizzer
April 15th 2010


915 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Well it's also a really small sample size unfortunately.

QuestionableScum
September 5th 2011


93 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Over time I have grown to like this more than Van Occupanther.

Enotify
May 20th 2013


3 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Compositions on this album aren't worse than on Van Occupanther, but I do see how the change in style isn't for everyone.

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
February 26th 2014


16060 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

maybe im in an easily pleased mood but i really like this

Digging: Lo-Pan - Colossus



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