Midlake

The Courage of Others

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Midlake’s third album, The Courage of Others, resides in the same woody, bearded Laurel Canyon neighborhood as their previous release The Trials of Van Occupanther. Tim Smith and his crew of laid-back balladeers have created another mesmerizing, smoke-filled work of quiet beauty that may not exactly improve on Trials, but does refine and focus their sound. Smith’s tender vocals, the band’s sympathetically hushed backing, and the strong melodies of the songs combine to cast a spell of hushed melancholy that’s only occasionally broken up by drums or volume. Indeed, the one song that rises above the no-tempo to midtempo mark, "Children of the Grounds," sounds a bit out of place before the web of vocal harmonies pulls the song back into the lovely gloom. The slightly mystical, always deeply felt lyrics that fill the rest of the album also serve to unify and narrow the focus of the album. Smith never comes close to writing a love song, instead focusing on the human condition, death, courage (as per the album’s title), and nature. The thoughtfulness and heaviness of the words can be a bit much at times, but the vocal harmonies and layers of guitars smooth over any concerns before they really take hold. Sadly, this time out, the band have put aside the wonderfully corny synthesizers they used on the last record in favor of a 100-percent organic approach that fits their bearded poets of the mountain image. Sad, because the one thing the album is missing is some kind of surprise or unexpected musical choice to shake the record loose from the strict generic bounds it adheres to from start to finish. It’s almost like the group set out to make exactly the record a lover of this kind of honest, moody, and unfailingly real music, where even the girls in the band have beards, would want to hear. That they succeeded in doing just that is impressive, but for anyone who wants a little more, they may need to go back to Trials.

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