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Listening to Midlake is like playing fantasy rock supergroup. Or rather country-rock supergroup, as the five-piece from Denton, Texas, immerse themselves in the sweet sounds and suede-jacketed sensibilities of the early-1970s Laurel Canyon scene, when millionaire hippies dreamt of getting back to the land and setting their souls free. Imagine Messrs Stills and Young teaming up not with Crosby and Nash in that post-Woodstock, pre-Eagles era but Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham and Iain Anderson from Jethro Tull, and you get an idea of Midlake’s blend of rustic nostalgia, rugged guitar lines and magically fluted melodies on their critically revered second album, The Trials of Van Occupanther.
Beloved by UK radio station BBC6 Music and reputedly selling 1,000 copies a week – serious business for an indie band – in America, this record has prompted Midlake to upgrade to larger venues and brought them a full house here. Conscious, perhaps, of being labelled “quiet men”, they ditch the backdrop of short films that used to offset their lack of banter. Yet when guitarist Eric Pulido does talk it is with such churchy politeness that the absence of chat seems a blessing.
Beautiful songs can, of course, speak for themselves. Midlake map their melancholy contours expertly, but never shake a certain studiousness. If, however, the sentiments of “Roscoe” – about wishing to be born in 1891 and building one’s house from cedar – are absurdly rose-tinted, Midlake look so earnest that it seems the only environmentally responsible thing to do.
This contemporary eco-tinge and the vaguely techno beats of “Young Bride”, an android’s square-dance, liberate the group from bucolic reverie. Frontman Tim Smith even borrows moves from Coldplay’s Chris Martin – singing a couple of tracks while bouncing side-saddle on his piano stool – yet Midlake are not prone to stadium gestures. Then again, their hearth produces such a warm glow that one forgives the fact they never fully ignite.
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