Reviewed by Darcie Stevens, Fri., Aug. 11, 2006
The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union)
From electro-pop to classic-rock textures and alluring vocal harmonies, Denton fivepiece Midlake continues to elevate music, maturing structure and echo, this time without the maneuvering of technology. Where 2004's debut LP, Bamnan and Slivercork, slapped Grandaddy on the keys, exquisite sophomore disc, The Trials of Van Occupanther, instead retreats into the world of Burt Bacharach, Fleetwood Mac, and Steely Dan. Nostalgic, sure, but comforting, meticulous, and complex. Opener "Roscoe" plays Tim Smith's delicate vocals like a violin, sighing through peaks and valleys. Even cursed with a Jethro Tull flute in "Van Occupanther" and "In This Camp" (among others), Midlake's Trials traverses all pitfalls to create a blissfully somber lurch. First single "Young Bride" comes closest to Bamnan but still reaches an elder status of voice-play, pitted against the constant drum of McKenzie Smith, while "Branches" peaks with Love Story melancholy. Stories become triumphant expressions of life ("In This Camp"), explosive self-realizations ("We Gathered in Spring"), and bitter realities ("Chasing After Deer"). By the time closer "You Never Arrived" fades out in a smooth, Seventies piano-driven melody, you've fallen in love all over again, and this time, it's with an adult.