The Courage of Others

There is a Druidic sensibility about The Courage of Others, the 3rd release from the Texas band Midlake. The cover is adorned by a hooded, contemplative figure double-imposed for mirror effect – the type of character who might haunt Stonehenge on the feast of the solstice. The album’s songs are brooding meditations on human vulnerabilities and flaws using the natural world as metaphor. The band conjures a somber atmosphere that resurrects the 1970’s world of progressive Brit-rock, aka Fleetwood Mac (pre-Nicks/Buckingham) and Steeleye Span.

The progressive adjective is apt in that Midlake’s career has gone through a progression of changes. Originally conceived in the late 1990’s as a jazz group, the band had morphed into an indie-rock unit by turn of the century, often winning comparisons to Radiohead. With the release of The Trials of Van Occupanther in 2006 Midlake’s evolution moved the band toward folk-rock.

The Courage of Others feels like a settling in – as if the band has finally arrived at a pre-determined destination. With its thickly textured production, its myriad instrumentation, and Tim Smith’s confessional lyrics, the album takes on a timeless sound that transcends the limits of modern rock and folk. Bassoon, flute, recorder, autoharp, and dulcimer co-exist with drums, electric and acoustic guitar. Midlake’s songs are subtle; like underground springs, the melodies seep slowing to the surface with repeated listening. With patience you’ll begin to hear the steady movement that flows through the record with the occasional eddies that double back on earlier themes. The lyrics, full of references to nature and mankind’s interaction within it, enhance Tim Smith’s delicate approach to questions of faith, courage, and strength. Ever the mournful romantic, his songs dabble in minor chords and soft, ambling vocals that portend inevitable reckonings of both the heart and soul.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)