Into The Woods
Most would expect a band coming from the tiny town of Denton, Texas to strive for country fame. However, the five Southern gentlemen of Midlake had other plans on their second full-length album, The Trials of Van Occupanther. They mix the familiar music of 1970s rock throwbacks with ethereal melodies and lyrics set in a woodland world. Tim Smith leads this organic endeavor with his airy vocals and mix of synthesized keyboards. His and Eric Pulido’s keys provide an otherworldly quality to songs like “Branches” and “It Covers the Hillsides.” Yet the acoustic and electric guitars of Smith and Eric Nichelson are at full force in “Roscoe” and “In This Camp” allowing the magic to stay on rock’s solid ground. Paul Alexander’s bass and McKenzie Smith’s drums complete Midlake’s intense rhythms from the mellow title track to the trippy climax “We Gathered in Spring.” These five musicians come together to make truly unique anthems.
Filling the tunes with lyrics such as “You’re always chasing after deer oh my dear…and through the meadow I can hear my fears” in “Chasing Deer” along with other forest imagery pushes Van Occupanther close to concept album status. Though it discusses a simpler hunter/gatherer life, every song mirrors modern emotions. Midlake uses “Bandits” to describe the longing to escape useless possessions and start over fresh, where “Branches” uses the symbolism of a girl happily living under branches to show how she has no need or interest to marry. Van Occupanther travels through older times and other worlds to successfully connect with its listeners.