Music News

Midlake: The Courage of Others, in "Nothing Not New"

Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Artist: Midlake
Title: The Courage of Others
Release date: February 2, 2010
Label: Bella Union

In the first 14 days (only 236 days to go!) of listening to CDs and downloads of new and upcoming releases by a variety of mostly indie artists in this "Nothing Not New" project, I've yet to completely turned off by a record. Sure, I've listened to a few that I didn't really care for (Editors, Vampire Weekend), but nothing that's truly been a chore to get all the way through. (Side note: I saw today on that Contra, the new Vampire Weekend record, was the bestselling record of the week, according to Billboard magazine. It sold 124,000 copies in its first week, outselling far more commercial acts like Black Eyed Peas, Lady Ga Ga, and Taylor Swift. Obviously, VW is one of the more hyped indie-rock acts around, and clearly, people loves these guys, but I still don't get it. I've listened to Contra a few more times since I wrote about it on January 5 and I still think VW's music is awfully precious.)

Today, I finally found an honest-to-goodness stinker, a record that took every ounce of energy and open-mindedness to actively listen to each of its 42 minutes and 5 seconds. I'll take a day-long marathon of Vampire Weekend over the Texas band known as Midlake. Now, on one hand, it was nice to hear an act that wasn't attempting to channel the 1980s, as so many of today's hipster bands seem to be doing. On the other hand, it was not nice to hear an act attempting to resurrect the prog-folk sound that you might've heard blasting out of a rec-room hi-fi set in 1972. Yeah, there's a place for everything thing in this world, but a prog-folk revival? Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

I give Midlake credit for their vision. Because I can't imagine there are too many bands out there playing music like this, a flute-filled, flatly produced, humorless, medieval soundtrack to some sort of neo-Druidic ceremony. The singer's voice reminds me a little bit of Mark Kozelek's (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painter), if Kozelek were a robot. Take a look at the cover of this record, and you should get an idea of what you're in for with Midlake. There's not a hint of irony here -- and that's okay, but it still is hard for me to take this music seriously. 

I'm curious to hear what people say about this band. What do you Midlake fans out there think? What am I missing? Leave a comment below.

Best track: "Children of the Grounds," the only song on The Courage of Others that approaches mid-tempo. 
Rotation: Low
Deja Vu: Getting stuck at a Renaissance Festival on the hottest day of the year.
I'd rather to listen to: "Stonehenge" by Spinal Tap
Grade: D-. I can't give it an F because I'm certain there will be something even if less listenable still to come down the pike.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett