Midlake The Trials of Van Occupanther

[Bella Union; 2006]

Styles: carsick indie rock
Others: Umbrella Sequence, Evening, Grandaddy, Audio Ovni, Mercury Rev

In the '60s, The Beatles underwent a sea change, from sweet-talkin' Liverpool fops to trip-taking blokes with an eye for experimentation, and with that the floodgates were opened. It became acceptable to tweak with one's sound, encouraged even. What today's bands don't understand is that the Fabulicious Four didn't change overnight. They released 13 full-length albums and a slew of B-sides; they progressed with each record, but never got ahead of themselves. They nurtured their sound until it logically led them elsewhere, in the process inspiring their heirs to do the same.

The Trials of Van Occupanther is Midlake's second album, and it reeks of a band going against their god-given strengths too early in the game. Whereas debut record Bamnan and Slivercork was a slippy, slappy, sloppy pogo-bounce with enough attitude to stare down a shark, Van Occupanther is a sterile, ineffectual effort that trades in confidence for reticence. From opening track "Roscoe" on, the inequity is staggering. Synths, which figured so prominently into the Bamnan mix, are MIA. Tim Smith's voice, so gregarious and playful before, has become restrained, as if he's holding back from revealing too much.

The quintet break out of their shackles for the odd track, namely "Branches," but The Trials of Van Occupanther is a painful disappointment, a shadow of the potential that led this reviewer to hail Midlake as a leading light just two years ago. Too much too soon, boys, too much too soon.

1. Roscoe
2. Bandits
3. Head Home
4. Van Occupanther
5. Young Bride
6. Branches
7. In This Camp
8. We Gathered in Spring
9. It Covers the Hillsides
10. Chasing After Deer
11. You Never Arrived

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