So here’s the scoop in case you didn’t know or didn’t really care, Midlake was/is a band from Denton, Texas that was fronted by a guy named Tim Smith. They created strange worlds on their albums that were part renaissance fair and part Ray Bradbury novel. A renaissance fair that took place in another dimension in some Orwellian civilization. Their first two albums bordered on brilliant, while the third bordered on maudlin. Then last year lead singer and main songwriter Tim Smith called it quits after two years of attempting to create a fourth album with his Midlake pals. Within six months of his departure the band had an album in the can(with guitarist Eric Pulido filling in for Tim Smith on lead vocal duties.) Songs were shared and opinions were varied, but most folks were optimistic. Antiphon is the result of Midlake’s work without their original distinctive voice. They’ve attempted to create a new, distinctive voice. At times they succeed beautifully.
Right off the bat I will say that Antiphon is one of the best sounding records I’ve heard this year. The production very dry, tight, and crisp. Very much in Nigel Godrich territory, with drums that seem to have been recorded in some space vacuum, each tom a world unto itself, while the snare snaps quickly and cleanly. The record starts out well enough, with lead off track “Antiphon” upping the energy ante by leaps and bounds in comparison the the band’s last outing, The Courage of Others. It’s a bit repetitive, but the band sounds so loose and alive you can forgive the repetition. Then “Provider” creeps out of the speakers like a psychedelic fog. Midlake have never sounded this loose and hazy before. Is that a Leslie Speaker I hear the guitar playing through? Yes, I believe it is. It’s an incredible track that once I heard it a coupe months ago I thought I was hearing a nugget of what would be one of the best albums of the year. Then “The Old And The Young” comes in and gallops along nicely, although losing some of the momentum the album had been building. A good song nonetheless, with a catchy bass line and vocals that hover rather than stand at attention. Lots of great background noise with synths and bell-like guitars. Eric Pulido comes into the vocal spot with very distinctive shoes to fill. While not matching Smith’s very unique voice, Pulido holds his own just fine. “It’s Going Down” really doesn’t change the mood much from the previous track. It seems to lie in that sepia-toned territory that The Courage Of Others found itself floating in, almost tiring the listener’s ears. I feel a yawn coming on. “Vale” ends side one on a jammy note. This is a track that would’ve never seen the light of day with Tim Smith still front and center. An instrumental that sees the band letting loose and opening the amps up a bit. The nice thing is that everyone in the band is a musician so no one is left out of this fun track that ebbs and flows between psychedelic jams and introspective walk in the woods. It’s a great new side to this band.
For me, side two is where things get interesting. The mood settles down quite a bit, but I feel more with these songs. “Aurora Gone” has a Fleet Foxes vibe to it, minus the dirty clothes and hemp necklaces. The flute we’ve come to know and love with Midlake is prominent on this acoustic-heavy track. “Ages” is a tense sounding song, for Midlake anyways. It’s a dark song with a bit of menace in Pulido’s voice. Slapback echo on the electric guitar adds that psych element while the harmonies help to make the song soar just when it needs to. “This Weight” picks up a bit while “Corruption” goes into an almost meditative vibe, with gently plucked acoustic ornamented with swirls of electric guitar and dreamy synths. This song goes into Besnard Lakes territory. The album closes with “Provider Reprise”, revisiting one of the album highlights.
At times, Antiphon is brilliant. Other times it’s a bit slow and unfocused. The last half of the album the band shines. What this record proves is that Midlake’s first time out without Tim Smith, they can indeed hold their own without Mr. Van Occupanther. Makes me that much more excited for what they have in store next time out.