After the departure of singer and songwriter Tim Smith for the band Harm, there were of course some doubts about the future direction of Midlake. Smith’s voice and the harmonies were probably the core of the band.
Worse still was that Midlake had been working on their fourth album for a couple of years when Smith left the cast. The material produced by Smith had to be discarded, and the quartet from Texas had to face the challenge of re-orienting.
Guitarist Eric Pulido now assumes the role of singer — and, the good news is: At no time it does feel like he is trying to sound like Smith. Instead, Midlake has forged a new identity. They sound shrill and more muscular. The sound is complex, atmospheric and bigger, but the beautiful instrumental passages remain.
In moving into the future, it seems as if the band decided to take small pieces of their past and combine them with their new sound.
Antiphon illustrates the way they’ve evolved, with a coarser melancholy, gloom with groundbreaking keyboards, large-scale guitar riffs combined with strong percussion and extremely self-conscious bass lines and grooves — a lot of which we have not heard from Midlake before. At the same time, Antiphon should not only be regarded as a departure from their earlier sound, but as an evolution into a new one. Only on “Aurora Gone” do we get a straight-forward rendition of the sound from their first three albums.
Still, what will decide how this album is received by the fans will be the voice of Eric Pulido. While certainly not as charismatic as Smith, Pulido is bolstered by the songwriting and instrumentation of the pieces. That balances any possible concerns about a “weaker” voice.
Antiphon finds Midlake in a liberated place, no longer having to follow the guidelines of its ex-creative director. Where they might once have felt a little bit like a backing band, they now have a lot more musical scope — and you can really hear the fun they have here. Now it only remains to be seen how the old pieces from Midlake will be performed live, because the gap between old and new stuff is quite large.
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