Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther was, lest we forget, one of the best albums of the noughties. Despite wearing its classic-rock influences on its sleeve, it somehow managed to sound fresh, its evocative rural tales of bandits and harvests set to gorgeous melodies and supported by a driving rhythm section. Their follow-up, The Courage of Others was a sombre affair;
the beards were longer and the songs more meditative; some would say dull.
A shake-up at camp Midlake was just what was needed, and it came last year when frontman Tim Smith left the band, leaving guitarist Eric Pulido to take up lead vocal duties and employ the services of new members Jesse Chandler (keys) and Joey McClellan (guitar). Antiphon is the product of this changing of the guard.
It’s not a radical transformation, but there is a discernible sonic shift towards an embrace of pysch- and prog-rock influences. The result is a testament to the band’s song-writing chops and good old-fashioned musicianship. Songs such as the title track, ‘Provider’ and ‘Aurora Gone’ rattle along with inventive bass-lines, melodic guitars and an expressive-but-tight drumming style that betrays the band’s jazz roots.
Pulido’s voice, it has to be said, is less distinctive than that of Smith, whose storytelling abilities were a crucial element of previous Midlake albums. As such, instrumental ‘Vale’ is a particular highlight, with its varied and colourful arrangement, as is the second half of ‘Corruption’ – a dreamy, repetitive piano-led sequence that you can really get lost in.
There’s not a lot wrong with Antiphon. It’s just that there happen to be other bands currently drawing from the same psychedelic well, and doing so with more youthful vitality than Midlake can muster. Tame Impala, Temples, Splashh et al may not have the music- college virtuosity that the members of Midlake can boast, but their music has a sense of urgency that no amount of
craftsmanship can make up for.
Sure, if you need a soundtrack for a Sunday afternoon drive or a BBQ in the garden, Antiphon is your record. But beautiful as it is, Antiphon can’t escape being an album of completely unadulterated dad-rock.