Album Review: Midlake – The Courage of Others (2010 LP)


The four years since the release of Midlake‘s sophomore record has seen an interesting shift in the broader spectrum of ‘alternative’ music, with a massive rise in a more hybridized, synthesised and crossover sound championed by groups like The Presets, MGMT and Crystal Castles. In these electro-driven times, it’s a real pleasure to find a band that is intent on keeping things traditional.

Midlake have been releasing music since 2001, but it wasn’t their breakthrough record, 2006’s The Trials of Van Occupanther, and the strength of its singles Roscoe and Head Home, that the Texan quintet truly made their mark. With heavy expectations weighing on their next release, it wasn’t surprising the band deliberately took their time to write and record it. The Courage of Others is a subtly different record to its predecessor. While Van Occupanther bore the distinct flavours of America and Fleetwood Mac-type ’70s rock, this record is more steeped in traditional folk, taking its lead from early-’70s folk groups like Fairport Convention.

The result is a more leisurely, dreamy album which still bears the distinct hallmarks of Midlake: warm layers of instrumental arrangements and vocals, a pastoral, wistful quality and most notably the soothing and warm voice of singer Tim Smith. Album opener is the sprawling track Acts of Man which, with its plucking acoustic guitars and simple arrangement, is wonderfully evocative and fragile, and sets the mood and tempo for the album. The Kings of Convenience-esque tune Winter Dies is effortlessly moody and dark, not unlike the wistful Rulers, Ruling All Things. But while their full-bodied songs give a modern edge to a rustic sound, one of the record’s surprise highlights is actually the stripped-back ballad Fortune, which manages to retain the traditional sound without seeming dated.

Unfortunately, the lolling, leisurely pace can sometimes make The Courage of Others a dull listen. But although it hasn’t quite hit the same peak as its more dynamic predecessor, the third album from Smith and company is still a well-crafted album and above all else, a pleasant listen.

Review Score: 6.5/10