Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Midlake “The Trials of Van Occupanther” Review

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

A few years after befriending the überhip Jason Lee and Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde began working with the band on various levels, the members of Midlake now relax within their given niche of stylish retroactive rock with the release of The Trials of Van Occupanther. “The Trials of Van Occupanther is now one of the most important modern records I own. In an age of overly-used irony and disconnected nonchalance, this record actually means something, and Midlake should be forever hailed for their unique and genuine approach to music. Simply put, Van Occupanther has backbone, and the fact that you don’t feel cheated by it gives one hope that sincerity can still exist within modern alternative music.” While Lee’s statements are likely slanted and based on his ever increasing infatuation with the band they doesn’t repel any class or credit from the enchanting exploration of modern musical relevance that is The Trials of Van Occupanther.

Having not heard Midlake’s 2004 release Bamnan and Silvercork it is hard for me to explain any differences the band has made in its sound, so rightly so, you won’t find any such comparisons here. Instead, hopefully, an attempt of explanation as to why this album is oddly refreshing. An attempt to identify how it revolves around smoother, softer sounds based on much of pop music from the ‘70s. An attempt to explain that whether you experienced the decade first hand or relived it through books and movies, multiple listens reveal eerie similarities to some highs and lows to the soundtrack of the Me Decade.

“Branches” offers the downtrodden piano that plainly pokes at a decades worth of crooners while it embraces the grace that elite crowd nonetheless possessed. “It Covers The Hillsides” breaks out of its muted drums with such intense guitar cheese that the song does nothing but hint at a full blown return to pre-hair arena rock. The simple synthesizer in “We Gathered In Spring” is laughable, but not because it’s poorly done or bland, but in that it prompts such a large number of memories to flood the system that nothing else could result but a laugh.

The point is that The Trials of Van Occupanther is a solid album that stands outside of anything that is typically going on in terms of rock music today. It tells a story without suffocating its listener with an overwhelming level of smoky arrogance. In the album Midlake presents a tasteful tribute to a general influence of sound, rather than a notable influence by any one particular artist which honors a phase in music rather than misappropriating a single artist’s legacy. Rather than breaking out of the fluidity that the songs offer by including one or more tracks that mimic anything overly modern sounding, the band enforces the purity of the songs by remaining constant in theme.

Do not panic when you hear “Roscoe,” it’s still 2006, and you’re still surrounded by people who listen to Nickelback and try to explain the complexities of how the band’s lyrics help explain their inner most insecurities and thoughts. Rather, allow the song to play on, allow the record to run its course, multiple times, and remember that there is more to artistic influence than merely mimicking. Midlake go far beyond such mimicry and encompass the passion and presence of matured anthems. It is the influence that is grossly apparent in Midlake’s music that is quietly crushing with its simplicity and aged relevance. Or, if nothing else, the band shows that it’s wrong to even considering Jason Lee’s taste.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]