Midlake, the acclaimed psychedelic folk band from Denton, has a curious background. All five of its members were jazz musicians at the University of North Texas; they formed in 1999 to play Herbie Hancock–influenced fusion. Leader Tim Smith has been up front about having to educate himself about the rock world, which makes sense: The band does sound as if it is making things up as it goes along. Its third album, The Courage Of Others (Bella Union), mines a drowsy, delicate mid-tempo vein. Smith’s voice has a Thom Yorke quality to it—Radiohead was the band that flipped him from sax to guitar—but Midlake lacks the English band’s drive. Courage is largely a somber affair peppered with flourishes of English folk; Smith claimed in an interview that he wanted the band to sound more like Jethro Tull (!), yet even Tull rocked out now and then. Smith’s songs are artfully assembled, though every one is sung with the same harmonies, and the melodies and lyrics meander. Only a few manage to stick. There’s just not much excitement here; maybe it’s time to work some Herbie Hancock back into the set.
From the February 2010 Issue Subscribe