Review Summary: Out of time...
It’s a bit odd seeing a new Midlake album in 2022. The band never quite managed to move past second-tier act status, but for all that they were an integral part of the 2000s indie scene, the type of group that you’d expect to see populating a certain type of person’s iTunes alongside the likes of Arcade Fire and The Decemberists (those were the days…). Now, a decade plus later, most of those groups don’t occupy nearly the same bandwidth in the music world. Midlake themselves haven’t released anything since 2013, with even that album being an unusual item, recorded and released minus the band’s long-time frontman Tim Smith (For The Sake Of Bethel Woods
again sees Eric Pulido as the lead vocalist).
This “out of time” feeling referenced in this review’s summary is exacerbated by the fact that Midlake has always been, for the most part intentionally, a group which evokes a feeling of archaic times. We’re not just talking about the 70s-folk rock homages, but also the 19th-century lyrical allusions, and the general sense of brooding solemnity which provides a timeless bent to the group’s songs. In that sense, it’s hard to think of a better Midlake album title than For The Sake Of Bethel Woods
, with its old-timey vibe, stuck right between rustic and Gothic.
The band is up to many of their old tricks on their fifth full-length, with hushed folk, mellow guitar solos, and somber, moody lyrics taking center stage. These traditional stylings are married with overt moves toward staunch psychedelic and vaguely experimental influences, with the musical backdrop of second track “Bethel Woods” leaning towards a dancy trippiness, while a bit of Radiohead influence can be detected in its follow-up, “Glistening”. Lyrically, this is a strong album, with a lot of poetic phrasing which rests in the sweet spot between touching and sinister, but musically too many stretches here fall a little flat compared to the band in peak form. For a record under forty-five minutes in length, this is a rather painfully long listen, which illustrates the somewhat dull nature of some of the tracks. That said, there are absolutely some wonderful moments as well. Perhaps surprisingly, the under-a-minute intro “Commune” is one of them, an inviting helping of rural folk. “Feast Of Carrion” also stands out as one of the finest tracks in the band’s career.
Even if I’m not afraid to share some gripes about this album, it’s good to have Midlake back, and not just as a nostalgia act. This is a respectable effort, with glimmers of excellence in many places. Indeed, this could well be an entrancing listen for the right fan, but sadly, for me, neither the atmosphere or the instrumentation is enough to prevent my mind from frequently wandering away while listening.