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This review is from: The Trials Of Van Occupanther (Audio CD)
With Grandaddy no more, The Flaming Lips pushing farther and farther into space and Mercury Rev seemingly on a self-imposed hiatus, a gap has opened for a quirksome, melodic, psychedelic American band. Enter Denton, Texas, five-piece, Midlake.
The Trials Of Van Occupanther is Midlake's second album and while their debut, Bamnam & Silvercork, was, at times, primitive, the new album is a fully-realised beast. Roscoe, driven by keyboards and both charming and infectious, is a perfect opening statement from a band who sound much more confident two years on from their full-length debut.
Like Grandaddy - to whom the band are most often compared - Midlake's chief concern, at least on their new album, appears to be a desire to retreat from modern day materialism to a more simple life of honest toil and nature. In the case of the album's fictional titular hero, this means invisibly transporting pales of water.
But while there's a degree of fantasy in the album's midst, singer Tim Smith's lyrics prove that The Trials Of Van Occupanther is grounded in reality. The gothic crawl of Branches gives us the biggest insight into Midlake's world as Smith sings, "we won't get married, because she won't have me", before closing the song with the heartbreaking refrain: "it's hard for me, but I'm trying".
Smith's bandmates have also clearly become more adventurous since Bamnam & Silvercork. Home sees the band adding fuzzy guitar solos to their repertoire, while In This Camp too proves that the band are equally adept at cultivating soon-to-be indie anthems. Elsewhere, Young Bride cascades along on a wave of carefully laid-down percussion and tempered strings, Gathered In Spring's conclusion is deliciously swamped in Eric Nichelson's keyboards and Chasing After Deer is just a lone guitar and Smith's trembling vocals.
Repeated listening of The Trials of Van Occupanther's charming and infectious songs might unveil hints of Neil Young, Mercury Rev, Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens, yet there's no mistaking Midlake's brilliance for anyone else's.