I recently found out that former frontman Tim Smith has left Midlake. As a big fan of Midlake, this disappoints and worries me. A certain amount of what defines a band is the chemistry of its members, and even when the departing member isn’t a principal songwriter (as Smith was), that departure can be disruptive to the band’s sound. While the split seems to be fairly amicable by all accounts, Midlake’s soon to be released new album, Antiphon, has a difficult road ahead of it, battling the expectations of what the band used to be, not to mention introducing guitarist Eric Pulido as the band’s new lead vocalist. With the first two singles, the title track “Antiphon” and most recently “Provider,” that sound seems mostly intact, with final judgement being held until the release of the full album.
Which brings us to my concern.
While there are many people who were disappointed in the direction Midlake chose after their first album, the slightly oddball Bamnan and Silvercork, I have quite a bit of fondness for the 70′s rock-via-renaissance-fair sound they have had ever since. Their albums have a fireplace quality to them, pushing out warm, heady air that is best enjoyed in a certain amount of stillness. Each song brings you deeper and deeper into the forests they would seem to be making their music in, always letting enough sunlight in to keep things from getting too dark, and leading you safely through to the other side.
So what happens when you don’t have the full journey of the album? I like “Provider.” It wouldn’t sound terribly out of place on The Courage of Others, Midlake’s last album, and an album that I enjoyed (more than most, admittedly). But without the full album washing over me, what I’m left with is a little bit like having lukewarm water splashed in my face.
With all of Midlake’s albums, even the aforementioned outlier Bamnan, the process for me usually follows something like this: A few front to back listens, just taking the whole album in. At some point, a song or two will start to grab me, giving the album high points to look forward to with each listen. These songs will give way to others that provide some sort of counterpoint or balance to what grabbed me initially. Eventually, I’m left with an album full of songs that fluctuate as my favorite, but always providing a solid experience when taken in as a whole.
The logic behind releasing singles before the album is pretty sound. It builds anticipation for the album and gives the band some momentum leading up to the release. Maybe it’s just me, or the nature of Midlake’s appeal to me, but I’ll probably be skipping any further singles. They keep giving me the baby, and all I want is the bathwater.
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