The Middle East released an ep in 2005, and the best way to describe it would be to say it showed potential. But I don't think anyone who heard the EP was prepared for the amazing CD they released in 2008. However, a few weeks after the release of the CD the band disbanded. All was quiet for a while, until one day they exploded on the blogosphere, receiving much praise and many positive reviews. This led to them reforming, with Spunk records releasing a shortened version of their CD with some new packaging.
The EP opens with the song, "The Darkest Side", which features a very beautiful guitar line underneath some near-whispering vocals. These expand to a harmonized chorus, and later on there are some swells in the music with other instruments being added, but overall it's pretty minimal. However that doesn't hold it back from being a very moving tune.
"Lonely" starts off seeming like a somewhat anticlimactic second track, but over the course of seven minutes builds up to a pretty epic ending, and I could see why from this track some people might draw Arcade Fire-comparisons (although they aren't an Arcade Fire copy-cat band).
"Blood" is the strongest track on the album, again it features beautiful guitar and vocals, but also really nice bell percussion (which gives it a wintery feel). Around the three-minute mark this song really explodes, adding piano, brass, and children vocals.
"Fools Gold" is much calmer, and a nice follow-up to "Blood". It's not one of my favorites, but none of these tracks are bad.
"Beleriand" is a welcome change of pace from the previous four tracks, it starts off faster and more intense than anything else on the EP, dies down and then builds back up. Ultimately it leaves you wanting to hear more from them.
I don't know why they reissued a shorter version of the album instead of just reissuing the whole thing. They cut out two of my favorite tracks (the apocalyptic "The Fall of Man" and the epic 13-minute "Tsietsi"), and as a result it doesn't hold up as well as the original did--there's just not as much variation. If you can find that one (it's not going to help that they share the same title), I'd recommend it instead.
It makes sense then that when they took out the three more post-rock sounding songs that they had to change the artwork from the ghostly white outlined face to the colorful pastel people embracing. But it's not a change that I like; "The Recordings of the Middle East" was my favorite album of 2008, and I'm baffled as to why they cut those tracks before reissuing it.
The good news is that they're now back together and touring, and hopefully we'll get some new music from them in the near future.