Midlake is a band that mixes a bit of folk, psychedelic, and alternative rock into a unique brand of heartfelt indie music. The group has weathered personnel changes and is now at their strongest with guitarist and lead vocalist Eric Pulido joined by Paul Alexander (bass/vocals), Joey McClellan (guitar/vocals), Jesse Chandler (keys/flute/vocals) Eric Nichelson (guitar/keys) and McKenzie Smith (drums). Notice if you will, that’s a lot of guys who can sing, and they make full use of that vocal talent. Led by Eric’s rich baritone their four-part harmonies fill the latest album, Antiphon (2013), infusing normally down-tempo sounds with beautiful warm tones. Structured compositions give way to free flowing instrumental excursions, mixing flute, lightly distorted guitar leads, and strong lyrics, from the lost love of “Aurora Gone” to the prose admonishing us to bear the “Old and the Young:”
Awoke from a long one that came on the heels of a day
Where sun would arise and then grant us the kindness of ray
Fields full of gladness surrounded by droves that await
And look for the grave in everything adorn
Bear the old and the young
Fans of Wilco, Badly Drawn Boy, Sea Wolf, The National, and other bands of this kind take note – its challenging, soulful music that’s stands a cut above – one of the best records of its kind so far this decade. Best listen to the title track, “Antiphon” to experience the whole. Follow up with the propulsive beat of the melancholic yet hopeful “Old and the Young.”
At points, the use of flute, Hammond organ, inventive bass leads, and propulsive drumming will put you in mind of classic rock and progressive contemporaries of long ago. Musical influences like Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac, and Pink Floyd have been suggested by others, but importantly this music sounds very much of today – an unique combination of these elements and more without being derivative.
After spending some time on the indie film circuit, last month on Record Store day, Midlake released a DVD of a movie by Jason Lee and Eric Noren: Live in Denton, TX. I snagged the last copy at our local Amoeba Records store in San Francisco. The film is a rare document of this band playing in a small club in, you guessed it, Denton, Texas. The footage captures the concert, interspersing close shots of the band during performance with shots of the city of Denton, it’s inhabitants, and workaday life. The career-spanning set list includes many of their best songs – lots of tracks from their earlier albums including Bamnan & Slivercork (2004), The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006), and The Courage of Others (2010) along with six from their newest, which is really a big step forward for the band. The musicianship and vocal delivery is top notch, and the soundtrack reproduces the live set perfectly – lots of deep bass & drums, with shimmering keys, flute, guitars, and Eric’s amazingly strong lead vibrato, backed by those beautiful harmonies.
The film’s images are crisp and clear – lots of deeps hues, colored lights, and interesting use of varying points of focus. Due to the small club setting, and possibly also to represent the experience of those in attendance, many shots are captured from positions in the crowd, which obscures a bit of the action, and the club and stage itself is often so darkly lit it can be tough to catch the musicians technique. Still, it’s fitting to the sometimes-brooding compositions and the drama of their songs. Near the end of the set we get a little more light on the band, and might well recognize them when, hopefully, the next tour rolls into town! Don’t miss it.