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Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther CD (album) cover

THE TRIALS OF VAN OCCUPANTHER

Midlake

 

Prog Folk

3.83 | 16 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Woodsy indie folk-rock with a slight dark tinge

Midlake is an indie rock band from Denton, Texas around since the late 1990s, with three unique and different studio albums to their name. Their middle album is the forest-friendly folk/art-rock collection 'The Trials of Van Occupanther.' While there is little prog to be found here (their next album would be proggier if that matters to you) this album was quite a surprise when I purchased it in 2006. It channels and celebrates some of the best acoustic rock moments of the 1970s, California rock, folk-rock, bands like America, Pure Prairie League, and Neil Young (especially the album 'After the Gold Rush' which carries a very similar vibe-more on that later). This love of that era is blended with modern sensibilities, and while the band claims a Radiohead influence, I hear a softer, less jammy version of My Morning Jacket personally.

The album is a mixed bag with a drop-dead excellent first half and a second half that doesn't come close to matching it. It starts very strong with the superb, totally accessible alt-country of 'Roscoe' featuring a bludgeoning bass line and nice piano fills in around the edges, with moody themes that conjure thoughts of secretive past days. 'Bandits' and the title track show off the mellow and acoustic side, where multiple warm guitars and amazing vocal harmonies fill out these odes to freedom and woodland fantasy, at least that's what the lyrics mean to me, escape. 'Young Bride' is another stellar highlight. An incredible opening of fiddle music is sideswiped by this colorful drum shuffle that just interrupts it for a most unusual song feel, then the track swoons with more gorgeous melody and great storytelling, really impressive. Several tracks are adorned with flute or keyboards to thicken the guitars. But as mentioned, side two cannot maintain the same level of quality. The second half sounds less inspired and more repetitive, with simpler acoustic numbers which have less surprises and less interesting arrangements. It brings the album down a full star without question. Still, 'Van Occupanther' is a homey and heartfelt collection of songs that should appeal to fans of wistful 70s guitar/harmony rock. It's a great album for a ride in the country or sharing a beer with friends.

Again, if you like the album 'After the Gold Rush' I would definitely recommend this one which shares it spirit. 'Van Occupanther' for me recalls songs like 'Tell Me Why,' 'Till the Morning Comes,' and 'I Believe in You.' If you like that side of Neil, buy this one.

Finnforest | 3/5 |

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