There is a certain sense of hardened isolation apparent in the title of Midlake’s latest release, The Courage of Others. The opening track of the Texas five piece’s third album only reinforces the sombre, very desolate sort of atmosphere one might expect from such a name. Whatever its emotional inspiration, the record is a collection of tales centered on feeling inadequate among one’s surroundings. As barren and unhappy as all this may sound, The Courage of Others lends itself to another, perhaps more appealing concept: the album is a soundtrack to a story full of natural beauty. Tim Smith’s lyrics are lush with wonderfully descriptive accounts of nature, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always vivid and majestic. When intertwined, these stories of someone alienated by their society, who is still able to find a beautiful peace in the nature around them, are quite profound.
The Courage of Others features a well-played ensemble of instruments; technically speaking, the album is played in a style of folk reminiscent of a somewhat darker version of Fleet Foxes (QRO album review). Add in a hint of moody indie-rock and a few psychedelic tendencies, and you arrive at the core of the record’s experience. Almost every song is based on the strumming of a brilliant acoustic guitar, which well reflects the image of lonely traveller. From there, most the album is heartily layered with compelling bass lines, and the murmurs of a gentle electric guitar. On top of that, a well-placed organ can often be heard, along with the occasional hum of a solemn flute.
There are a few times that the diversity of instrumentation and arrangement cannot quite overshadow the lack of diversity in Tim Smith’s vocals. This causes a handful of the songs to run together. The record is at its best on its more distinct tracks, especially Winter Dies, Fortune, and the title track. Though it’s hard to follow-up as strong of an album as The Trials of Van Occupanther, Midlake has come close. The Courage of Others may not be a grand step up, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.