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The Trials Of Van Occupanther
Bella Union Records

I wasn't sure what to expect from the sophomore release from Denton, Texas wonderband Midlake… I'd enjoyed their debut record, Bamnan And Slivercork, so much, with its quirky, coded lyrical bits and solidly odd musicianship. I thought that that album was a landmark in modern post-shoegaze indie pop, and was anxious to see what the band would turn out for their next release, but I waited with trepidation… This was such a creative band that it could turn into exactly the sort of situation that could go horribly wrong, tremendously quickly.

I am relieved and happy to announce that Midlake has come through with another record full of amazing songs filled with oddly floating melodies, brilliantly off-center musical arrangements, and the same strange penchant for lyrics with obviously hidden meanings (or possibly no meanings at all). "Roscoe" kicks off the album in perfect indie fashion - driving rhythms, cool horribly toned guitars that work excellently, and quirky lyrics. "Stone-cutters made them from stones/ chosen specially for you and i/ who will live inside". I don't know what it means, really, which makes me only like it more. And the fact that the groove reminds me of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" isn't bad, either. Tim Smith's voice has matured a bit since the first record, and he is developing into quite a fine singer, reminding me of John Grant from Bella Union labelmates The Czars, not only in tone and timbre, but also in style and composition.

"Bandits" is a modern day fable, telling of loss and gain and the ebb and flow of the tides of life. The song is melodically complex, and the story hard to follow, but the song is catchy and I find myself humming it at the oddest of times. "Head Home" once more crosses into the rhythmic and melodic territory that is home to Lindsay Buckingham… great songs with grooves that grab the ear and drag the head along for the ride. Smith's voice is in fine form, and the melody perfect on the weird tale of "Van Occupanther". McKenzie Smith's drumming is sublimely relaxed, creating the perfect cushion for Paul Alexander's bass guitar. "Young Bride" is a bit more challenging a listen, with an oddly complex rhythm and weird keyboards filling in all the gaps. "In This Camp" finds Smith playing the flute over Eric Pulido's and Eric Nichelson's solid guitar work and ambient synthesizer 'scapes, molding a tune that crescendos and fades like the ocean tides at dusk.

While there are no songs that immediately grab me by the pants and make me want to dance like a manic epileptic (see "Kingfish Pies") on The Trials Of Van Occupanther, the songs slowly work their way into the brain… this creates a more sustainable listening enjoyment. Some would call it maturing as songwriters and players. I call it making great music that sticks with me long after the album has ended.

-Embo Blake

Track Listing:
1. Roscoe
2. Bandits
3. Head Home
4. Van Occupanther
5. Young Bride
6. Branches
7. In This Camp
8. We Gathered In Spring
9. It Covers The Hillsides
10. Chasing After Deer
11. You Never Arrived

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