Review Summary: Midsummer offers a flawless fusion of progressive rock, shoegaze, and post-rock in 2008's unsung masterpiece.
“The best band will never get signed,” lamented Jeff Tweedy in Wilco's 'The Late Greats.' It seems like an indie rock cliché, but occasionally one will discover an highly talented artist who remains unknown even to the most avid of music enthusiasts. California's Midsummer is precisely such a band, releasing three EPs between 1999 and 2004 to virtually no critical attention. While many contemporary underground bands seem to relish irony, kitsch, and detachment, Midsummer took the opposite approach by crafting elegant, transcendent songs that offered a beautiful combination of nuanced progressive rock, post-rock, and shoegaze.
Ten years after their formation, the band's debut album Inside The Trees was finally released in 2008, the culmination of their previous efforts that makes their early EPs seem rather quaint in comparison. The album's initial songs are fairly straightforward: “Cymbals of Sunshine” gives the album a majestic opening, while 'Possible' shows the band's skill at writing great hooks. 'Eventide' is an ethereal tune that maintains a tense quality over its unusual chord changes; the combined impact of the opening songs sounds like the vulnerable passion of Sunny Day Real Estate taken out of dark, quiet bedrooms and exuberantly transposed over mountains, seas, and fields.
But Midsummer is capable of a far wider range of tones than the opening tracks might suggest. The one-two punch of 'Wilderness' and 'Aria' creates some of the strongest moments on the album, the point at which the band begins to flex its considerable musical talent. 'Wilderness' consists of nine minutes of mostly-instrumental progressive rock evocative of artists such as Sigur Ros or Explosions In The Sky; but where post-rock bands often linger predictably in long, slow passages, Midsummer's songwriting builds and climaxes in an unpredictable fashion, with plenty of tempo and chord changes to keep things interesting as Steve Elkin's thundering drum performance guides the song. 'Aria' channels Mew in a similarly long track that starts as a tender, intimate tune before exploding into a rapturous refrain.
Although eighteen minutes in two songs might be the creative apex of most albums, Midsummer has plenty more to offer. The dark, piano-driven 'The Veil' offers a respite before 'Impalpable' presents intricate twists and turns, even featuring a Sonic Youth-esque noise freakout. The song subtly transitions into the mostly-orchestral 'Candle Street,' which offers a warm ending to an epic rock workout. 'With Snow The World Surrounds Us' is perhaps the most beautiful track on the album, beginning with a gradual build-up guided by Ryan Pue, Dale Bryson, and Action Olvey's chiming guitars before the gorgeous refrain gives way to a shoegaze-inspired ending.
The title track shows a return to Midsummer's forceful darker side, rising and falling akin to a classical composition before the disarmingly cheerful 'Faces' ends the album with a jangly, intimate tune that provides a down to earth ending to a truly epic album. Few bands can boast of the sheer sophistication and range Midsummer displays on Inside The Trees. Over the course of an hour, Midsummer covers a dazzling variety of music, filtered through their grandiose, classically informed compositional style to create a record of stunning and unique beauty. Lushly layered guitars sparkle and soar over the skilled drumming and meticulous arrangements, with Bryson's modest vocals accentuating what could already have been a spectacular instrumental release.
Inside The Trees is simply an incredible album that should not be missed at any cost. By taking the lush atmosphere of My Bloody Valentine, the wistful euphoria of Sigur Ros and Mew, and the vulnerable yearning of Sunny Day Real Estate, Midsummer created an album that rises beyond its influences to previously unseen heights and avoids the occasional pitfalls of its forebearers. With a beautiful CD package and liner note photography, it's clear that each and every aspect of the album was a labor of love for Midsummer. This is the rare album that actually lives up to its long recording cycle; it's just a shame that so few people will ever hear it.