Midlake: The Trials of Van Occupanther and Bamnan & Silvercork
I bought The Trials of Van Occupanther in December after seeing it on other people’s top ten lists and hearing the absolutely fantastic opener, “Roscoe.” When the time came for me to make my own best-of-’06 list I mentioned Trials but was hesitant to show it much love since I hadn’t really had time to digest it. Three months later, this album has not left my hard drive, my iPod, my car stereo, my dreams, my waking hours. It easily would have been my #1 of last year had I heard it in time. “Roscoe” is the song that sucks you in, and on first listens it seems to sit head and shoulders above the rest of the album. But this is one of those albums—the best kind—where the more you listen to it, each individual track at one point becomes your favorite. The first time I mentioned Midlake I provided an mp3 to “Roscoe.” This time I’ll give you “We Gathered in Spring.“
I listened to a few tracks from their first album, Bamnan & Silvercork, at the time, and I liked them but was too immersed in Trials to be distracted. What I’d read on the internet also kept mentioning that the album was heavily indebted to the Flaming Lips. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but it sounded like code for “this band has not found their way.” When I bought tickets to see them at the Troubador last month, I picked up B&S just so I’d be familiar with the songs. It’s true that the album is not as fully formed as Trials, and there are a few Lipsy elements—the keyboards and the distorted drums, in particular—but nevertheless B&S surprisingly sunk in and gripped me. The record really has its own charms, very distinct from Trials. “The Balloon Maker,” for instance, has become inescapable for me. My experience of Midlake reminds me of the way I reacted to the Scud Mountain Boys seven or eight years ago. I bought Massachusetts and was possessed by it for many months, then made my way to the supposedly lesser Early Year; it was lesser, but it was quite different and wonderfully in its own way.
What I’m saying is: I can’t recommend Midlake enough.
Peter Bjorn & John: Writer’s Block
Sometimes you just have to turn the Cynic Switch off. This trio was popping up on the internet friggin’ constantly for much of last year. I don’t know about you, but I’m largely to the point where when Pitchfork leads the charge, I run the other way. Then “Young Folks” started getting rotation on my local radio station. I didn’t know it was PB&J at first; I thought it was a good song, catchy, nothing life-changing. But then my brilliant wife started getting into it and we went to Amoeba and picked it up. And wouldn’t you know it but this is a really great album. It’s much more layered than I would have thought based on the single. Parts of it make me think of the Kinks if Kevin Shields were the guitar player.
I touched on the trio in this post, if you can wade through the parts about book-lookin’. That post includes an mp3 for my personal favorite, “Roll the Credits,” so here I’ll give you “Let's Call it Off.”
The Little Ones: Sing Song EP
Like Midlake, this was another one I bought in December but too late to digest before making a year-end list. I have disclaimers about this band—it’s that Cynic Switch; sometimes it turns itself on automatically—but first let me get the main point out of the way: this is a great little batch of songs. There’s really not a dud in the bunch. Now, here are the caveats: these guys really don’t bring much new to the table. Their album cover is disturbingly close to the Shins’ Chutes too Narrow, and for that matter their sound is not that far off. The singer reminds me of the days when Ben Gibbard was not quite so cloying and over-earnest—there was too a time! In other words every influence I hear in the Little Ones is a band that is probably the same age as them. But so what? All I really know is I’ve been playing this album over and over. My wife and I blare it out of our car windows as we drive up the PCH to Malibu on the weekends. Try out “Lovers Who Uncover” and see what you think.
Tomorrow, a few words on those albums I purchased, liked well enough, but didn't stick.