After the reading the review of Midlake's "The courage of others" in Uncut you would inevitably approach this third album by the melodic Texan soft rockers with some trepidation. Phrases like "strangely frigid" and "cold" are scattered throughout and there is some lamenting about the overwhelming influence of English folk rock. Personally if any band want to plunder the works of Fairport Convention, Pentangle or Nick Drake for inspiration it sounds like a wonderful prospect particularly if the band as good as Midlake.
When it comes to Midlake you know the story. In 2006 this band led by Tim Smith released the beguiling "Trials of the Van Occupanther" with its influences drawn from Grandaddy, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and the Flaming Lips and with lush, harmony-laden ballads like "Head Home", "We gathered in spring" combined with truly wonderful melodic rockers such as "Roscoe" (check out the recent fantastic cover by Ellie Goulding). It marked a huge departure from the patchy psychedelia of their debut "Bamnan and Slivercork" and with TV on the Radio's "Cookie Mountain" and Band of Horses great debut it was easily one of the best albums of that year.
So are the good folks at Uncut right, is "The Courage of others" a misstep following the stellar highpoint of "Trials"? Before answering lets check those influences. It is true there is something slightly medieval about some of the songs on "Courage" but "Trials" was also underpinned by a rustic back-to-nature quality and had something of the "ancient" about it. This is also a much more guitar driven album albeit it is much darker and wintry than its predecessor. As such its perfect soundtrack to the UKs recent snowy landscape.
On the first few listens it does sound rather the same throughout but this is dispelled with "deeper" listens. "Acts of Man" is gentle and sumptuous opener, while "Winter Dies" does have clear Fairport influences and is excellent. The real core and strength of the album comes however in the albums mid point starting with the gentle acoustic "Fortune", the lovely folk ballad "Rulers, Ruling all things" and the brilliant "Children of the Grounds" which is this albums "Roscoe". This is Midlake doing what they do best namely melodic rock music with lavish harmonies and lyrics
That said by "Bring Down", "The Horn" and the title track I find the "Courage of Others" becomes wearing and a bit mournful. You long for a song like "It covers the hillside" or "Young Bride" to break it up with some exuberance. There is not enough colour or light and shade. Indeed "Bring Down" sounds like its straight out of the Steve Hackett "Teach yourself Genesis guitar lines" book and both "The Horn" and the title track are plain dull. This is partly due to the limitations and lack of nuance in Tim Smith's voice and the complete over reliance on him for all vocal duties. Indeed perhaps some of the other band members could occasionally take on a song to provide some variety? This can all be forgiven because of the final track "In the ground" which is probably the most folk tinged song on the album punctuated as it is by flutes and recorders but also reminds me for some reason of "Argus" era Wishbone Ash. Whatever the case it's a great ending.
Is it as good as "Trials"? My honest answer is no, but then not much is. In any case this an album that you will need to "live with" for a while to appreciate its full depth. Midlake are a class band who try something new in every album and draw inspiration from a bewildering range of sources. "Courage of others" is a brave, intriguing and sometimes flawed album. Midlake are a band prepared to change and take risks and we should treasure that.
on 5 January 2011
Beards. They seem to be everywhere. American musicians show them off with regular ease. The thoughtful man's stress reliever is having unparallel success of late. E, perhaps the most iconic of them all, has released several key albums over the last few years, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes breaking through with critically acclaimed albums of late, Sea Sick Steve and his well received live shows, and yes, and those sexually transmitted diseased nashvillians kings of leon have gone supernova. And even us brits have offered Susan Boyle to the equation. Beards. And now Midlake have arrived beards and all, with an absolute stunner of a record, the `courage of others'.
I actually saw midlake live before I heard the new album, normally live shows suffer for me as a result of not knowing the songs in some regard. But the songs of midlake third album are really strong, and have a distinct sound that is memorable. And when hearing these songs on the album, I could see where they were musically, and what they are trying to achieve with this record. I can understand criticisms where reviewers have stated the album sounds samey, but that live and studio connection really shows. Each song is terrifically deep in arrangement, conceived by a range of musicians at the top of the game, resulting in 40 minutes that is a pleasure to listen to. Whereas the Trials of Van Occupanther incorporated the lighter side of led zeppelin, the courage of others claims hold of a much deeper folk connection to the likes of nick drake, and jethro tull and the arrangements show this, the album is dark and brooding, rustic, and tactile, but without letting it get in the way of Tim Smiths strong metaphorical lyrics, that really shape what each song is. A criticism of many albums is that the lyrics, and sound have no correlation, but Tim smith has achieved a fine balance in given the music meaning, and the music a voice.
For fans of Trials of Van occupanther, this is a distinctively different album, the harmonic chorus aren't here, the obvious singles (roscoe, bandits, head home, and young bride) aren't to be found in such obvious aplomb, but instead this album is more coherent from start to finish, with each song finding its voice in its own time and space. However, I must say that Trials was an album that rewarded with further listens, it took time to notice its virtues, and it was an album, and a band that took time to grow on me.
A lot has been said; some distinctively dismissing this album straight away, but surely this album deserves the same approach. It certainly deserves it.
So no more are beards the sexual deviant give away, no more are they the homeless man face towel, it is a sure sign of artistic brilliance. Go grow a beard.
on 11 April 2010
Like many others I wasn't blown away on my initial listen and though, after about 10 plays, it had grown to be a really good album I still preferred 'Trials of....then something magical happened. The subtleties and nuances hidden in the tracks revealed themselves in all there majestic glory and now I can hardly go a day without listening to it.
Only really great albums take you to another level just when you think you've drained vereything out of them. Perservere, and you might, like me, think this one of the best records of the last 20 years. It's worth it.
on 6 December 2010
The Courage of Others is a fantastic album. While i can understand come people finding it a difficult listen, especially after the comparatively hook-laden Trails of Van Occupanther, there is much richness therein. Granted, "Fortune" is the only variation tempo-wise (though I think we'd struggle to call it "upbeat") and the rest of the album is has a fairly plodding and unrelenting rhythm. And It's fair to say that, had I not been such a fan of Van Occupanther, I may not have given it the time I have. But after several months of listening now, I've found that its its rewards are deep and moving. It's a properly emotionally engaging experience: occasionally bleak and depressing, at other times uplifting and hopeful.
I'd urge anyone that enjoyed Van Occupanter to keep trying with this one.
on 11 April 2012
Four years on from the release of their preceding album, 'The Trials of Van Occupanther', Midlake's sound has changed very little. This is both a positive and a drawback. 'The Courage of Others' retains the tuneful folky guitar and excellent, understated vocals of frontman Tim Smith; which characterised 'Van Occupanther'. There are a handful of excellent songs on 'The Courage of Others', and it's on the album's shorter songs where Midlake have best distilled their folk-rock sound, with songs like 'Acts of Man', 'Fortune' and 'The Courage of Others' all being little gems which can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best work of Midlake influences like Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull. In truth, there's not a poor song on the album. The issue is that there's also not anything on 'The Courage of Others' which really stands out stylistically, and covering the same lyrical elements of folklore, wandering, and isolation which were at the heart of 'Van Occupanther', this record often feels like Midlake are going through the motions a little, even if the quality of Eric Pulido's haunting guitar and dulcimer, Smith's reassuring vocals, and McKenzie Smith's drumming make every track on the album worth listening. For those who enjoyed Midlake's previous work, or for those looking for some quality contemporary folk-rock, 'The Courage of Others' is a consistent, technically excellent and even moving glance back to the past. Midlake could, however, learn from their album title. The courage to explore new musical directions and lyrical themes is the one thing the band are lacking.
I bought this album based on a magazine review and I have to say I am so glad I did. This manages the strange paradox of sounding fresh and new and also reminiscent of past bands/music at the same time. The best way to describe their sound would be a mix of Fleet Foxes and The Moody Blues' and more than once the songs reminded me of `Forever Autumn' by Justin Hayward. Particular favourites for me are `Winter Dies' which has a wonderful intro and `Rulers, Ruling All Things' which is so atmospheric and grows so that it is especially moving by the end. Granted they do have a slight folky feel to them and the druid inspired cover doesn't do much to dispel that idea, but there is more to this band than meets the eye. The first time I played this I lay in a dark room and something about their sound resonated within me and I connected with it immediately. Maybe this was because it reminded me of the bands previously mentioned and my childhood, but I feel it is more because of the superb song writing and lyrics that weave their spell upon you. This isn't a full on folk or indie album, but if you come to this expecting more nuance and style than other albums of a similar ilk you should be left feeling very satisfied indeed.
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There is a thematic feel to Midlake's third album - an album four years in the making. It is undeniable that the roots of this album lie in British Progressive folk rock with more than a nod to the likes of Jethro Tull (at times lead singer Tim Smith uses the same phrasing as Ian Anderson) and the Strawbs. Ultimately this is an album by a letter day band of hippies who seem to have stepped straight out of the 1970s. This could have been played at Woodstock. But there is still a progressive feel to it, although most of the songs are very similar.
In some ways that adds to its attraction as it should be listened to as a whole - as if it's a song cycle or indeed just one long song (as Tull said Life's a long song). It's hard to see whether Midlake have taken a step forward or a step forward and two back. That said it is a glorious evocation of the countryside with Smith's plaintiff vocals threatening to soar but staying in check. The overall feel is one of heady atmosphere. This is intelligent folk/rock. It may not be as easily accessible as Van Occupanther, but there are many beautiful moments.
on 27 June 2013
Reviewing the vinyl. The pressing seems pretty good, not the cleanest I have heard, but the beautiful music is complimented perfectly by the analgue hum of the instruments and noises they have created here. For me a very different album to Occupanther. I prefer that one, in fact I think it is peerless in its recent genre. But thi sis different, very much of the same pace and mood and when taken as a whole feels like a 40 minute flotation tank. Acts of men sounds timeless ans id the perfect start.
The vinyl is heavy weight, and the packaging - non gatefold - nice inner sleeve and cool lables is well worth having.
on 3 March 2010
Like many others I came across Midlake after listening to their previous album, 'The Trials of van Occupanther'. And like many I was positively bowled over by that particular album. So after what seems like an eternity we have the follow up, 'The Courage of Others'. My initial reaction on playing this a couple of weeks back when I first got it was one of slight disappointment. I played the album in the car and nothing about it really stood out. But that quite often happens with an album that grows with more plays. Trouble is it hasn't really grabbed me despite a good few plays. It's not that this is a particularly bad album it's just that it is, to be brutally honest, a little bland. I get the fact that they're enamoured with 70s British folk a la Pentangle/Fairports. Trouble is this has neither the 'honesty' or 'feel' of either of those bands at their best. In fact both had very variable output in any case in my opinion and this is comparable to some of the mediocre Pentangle stuff that I remember rather than the best of it.
The first few tracks are played at the same slow pace and delivered with a similar 'disinterested' vocal. Only on 'Children of the Grounds' does this album pick up to compare to van Occupanther and when it does, on this track it is good. Earlier on 'Winter Dies' is pretty good as well but does sound rather like something already done by Espers. I know those who love this album will hate this review but I have really given it a good few listens now. It's not a bad album at all, but in terms of living up to its predecessor it doesn't I'm afraid. Perhaps it needs more listens? The jury is out at the moment on that one but I shall endeavour. Disappointed - so far. (5.5/10)
on 22 November 2010
I saw this band on Jools Holland and felt that there was something of merit in them as they performed the song Acts Of Man. On the strength of that I ordered this album and Occupanther at the same time.
I would recommend to you that you should reserve judgement on The Courage Of Others until you have allowed enough time for their sound and their haunting songs to get under your skin. If after that you still don't like it, so be it. But I think this album is phenomenal.
The lyrics bulge with fantastic imagery and the instrumental flows with amazing texture as Midlake take us on a journey through a landscape full of mountains and forests occupied by people of simple living. Apart from being predominantly male vocals this imagery reminds me of Dream Of The Archer and one or two other gems from the Little Queen album by Heart. Tim Smiths vocal style and even the vocal harmonies are a little erm .... dour, sombre even. But this is not always a bad thing .... Remember when Black did 'Wonderful Life'? He sounded positively suicidal but it still somehow worked.
This collection of songs would have taken off like a rocket if it had been recorded in 1972 and shared space in the album charts with Wishbone Ash's Argus, and Neil Young's Harvest albums, because the sound Midlake conjure up evokes memories of that era, which also lends itself (in terms of musical direction) to the inevitable comparisons with Jethro Tull.
I was surprised to find that these musicians were American because the flavour of their music is not only of 35 or 40 years vintage, but also distinctly British.
Before I close, importantly, I must pick a winner between this album and Occupanther. Occupanther has some great moments in songs like Branches and It Covers The Hillsides, and is probably the more up-beat album, (which for some would be the clincher), but for sheer consistency of good music my vote would go to 'Courage'. It is very close though.
If you are of a certain age and have lost faith that new bands can ever go toe to toe with the great legends of the past, give Midlake a try.