A conceptual album about resignation, regret, and late-19th-century rural life (seriously), Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther never rises above campfire politesse but consistently evokes musical splendor in, and possibly on, the grass. Unlike the Denton, Texas–based quintet’s 2004 debut, Bamnan and Slivercork, this disc doesn’t aspire to ersatz Beck. Instead, all 13 tracks mine ’70s FM radio popistry. The honey-brown “Roscoe” makes like Supertramp on ludes (or Fleetwood Mac on bennies). The warm, chugging electric guitar can’t seem to catch its breath, the snappy drumming pitter-patters like a kitty cat, and the ebony and ivory in the distance just giggle. The more pianistic but equally elegant “Head Home” takes the same trail, and as “Young Bride” skips to a warpath beat that could’ve been realized by funky Lakota, a rusty violin waltzes with singer-songwriter Tim Smith’s high, tiny, trembling voice. An homage to the antediluvian folk tradition of serenading dead spouses, the song summarizes both Trials and the band. To them, so much depends upon simplicity —say, a red wheel barrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens.
Midlake play Mercury Lounge Saturday, Southpaw Sunday, and Maxwell’s Monday.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 18, 2006