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Album Review: The Courage of Others by Midlake

By Bianca Ho
Published: March 2010

The folk-rockers of Midlake released their third studio album, The Courage of Others, on February 1. If you do not recognize the name, it’s probably because you have never heard of them before.

Midlake began in 1999 when a group of jazz artists at the University of North Texas collaborated in a band titled The Cornbread All-Stars. Their music evolved to a more mainstream “indie-pop sound later on.

Critics often compare Midlake to the musical stylings of Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac. Midlake focuses on the relationship between nature and life, a concept portrayed in all their albums.

After hearing their second album The Trials of Van Occupanther many times, I dubbed the group as a personal favorite of mine. Singer Tim Smith’s rich and melancholy voice in combination with the ballads and fascinating lyrics captured my attention.

The Trials of Van Occupanther, however, did not make an great impression immediately’€Midlake is a band that demands replay, and they certainly deserve it.

Critics gave The Trials of Van Occupanther favorable reviews on the whole, and thus Midlake’s third album was highly anticipated.

The Courage of Others, however, does not completely live up to its predecessor, though it is pleasing all the same. Smith’s voice still sports the same dark charm and the mood of the songs remains generally gloomy. The beautiful melodies are still there and the lyrics still conjure lush images of the charm of older woods and a simple life.

The Courage of Others was heavily influenced by Smith’s newfound love of very traditional European folk rock; this record is reminiscent of the Druids and bands similar to Fairport Convention’€think “Greensleeves.

Arguably the best track on the album, “Acts of Man brings together a smooth layering of vocals and guitar. Its sweeping yet slowly marching beat accentuates the simplicity of the woefully beautiful song. “And when the acts of man / Cause the ground to break open / Oh, let me inside, let me inside, not to wait, Smith sings.

Another highlight, the short but sweet “Fortune incorporates the flute, which is traditional to earlier European folk music. The distinctly folksy melody is calming and draws a grassy scene with overcast sky.

The Courage of Others certainly does not follow the styles of music popular in recent years but still offers its own unique, valuable contributions to music. Its beauty lies in its fusion of modern music with traditional folk songs.

A central theme of humans living with nature gives the album cohesion. This cohesion, however, works too well, resulting in all the songs on the album sounding similar. Each song also has almost the same tempo.

Midlake aimed high and tried something new this time. Their work demonstrated grace and beauty, but missed chances for some great opportunities to improve pertaining to their potential to bring a little more originality.

Although it may seem outdated, give The Courage of Others a try and listen to it a few times. You would be surprised as to how the change in music affects you.

Better yet, I recommend you try something from Midlake’s second album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, which manages to be very original whilst incorporating values of modern music.

Overall, I praise Midlake for daring to take a different path; The Courage of Others, however, deserves to have a little more life and a little more vivacity. I would give this a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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