Ayuh Music: Midlake’s “The Trials Of Van Occupanther”

If you’ve heard of Midlake, color me impressed, because even though they’re from the US, they’ve made a much bigger impression in Europe. If you haven’t heard of them, now’s your chance.

I got to Midlake second-hand myself. I liked them immediately based only on the album cover:

This is easily an afternoon that my brother and I could have had in the early 90s.

Midlake are from Denton, Texas, and they have an absolutely hypnotizing sound. It’s folky, staticky, casual and playful, mixed with really interesting synth/keyboard sounds that trip you right back to the prog-rock movement. Shuddery strings and nice crashy pianos make for complex and layered soundscapes – think really mellow Traffic crossed with The Flaming Lips and maybe a little Regina Spektor on the piano side of things. The real kicker, for me, are the harmonies. Midlake do three-part harmony like it ain’t no thang, man. It’s probably the jazz influence; all five members went to music school for jazz, and cite their biggest heroes as Radiohead and Jethro Tull. It’s like some crazy music/science experiment where you throw it all in a jar and see what comes out!

The opener is called “Roscoe,” which makes me happy. For some reason, I have always found the name Roscoe to be inexplicably hilarious.

The music is great. The only problem with the album is that it doesn’t naturally delineate itself into separate songs; instead, it feels like listening to different movements of a symphony, which all blend together. This is excellent for when you want to chill out, fall asleep, maybe do six or eight Sudoku puzzles in a row, whatever. It’s not so excellent when you’re trying to remember which specific song was the one you really liked, and which one you’d rather skip. But it’s ok. It really is. Just relax and go with it, man.

With that in mind, here’s some groovy music to power your evening (or your 2 a.m., in my case, as that’s when my column airs in the UK).

I realise, at the end of this review, that it’s actually barely a review. But that’s OK; sometime you just need to turn your brain off and be soothed. Midlake will soothe you. Let it carry you off into the woods. And if any of you figure out which of those guys up there – either bear-head, or the guy in the lame’ union suit – is Van Occupanther, please do let me know.

By Dr. Song

Dr Song is an archaeologist, in exile from the great state of Maine. Her life motto is "Hold fast."

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97 replies on “Ayuh Music: Midlake’s “The Trials Of Van Occupanther””

Nice. “Roscoe” was my melancholy jam in 2006 when I was commuting on the DC Metro to my unpaid internship. Midlake’s most recent album was even more proggy Jethro Tull-like, if you like that part. (Although I think original prog rock seems to have a sense of humor about itself, while Midlake does not.)

I’ve heard of these guys before! I downloaded the song “Acts of Man” from somewhere a year or two ago (pitchfork, maybe?) and then last year I grabbed  the Milkmaid Grand Army EP from a local used record store. I don’t know much about them though. Cool article!

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