Midlake is a band lost in time. Eschewing the modern age and technology, the band seems more comfortable in a time when frontiers were still new, trees were plentiful and men were men. 2006’s The Trials of Van Occupanther was filled with images of nature and tales of pioneers. The Courage of Others continues with this setting. If Van Occupanther was Midlake’s fall album, The Courage of Others is their winter. During ‘Small Mountain’ ,Tim Smith sings of “a way of life that will surely be gone.” It’s a bleak time, worlds are colliding; a recurring theme of the album is that of burgeoning industrialism threatening the traditional agricultural lifestyle. In addition, this is the voice of the common people, the farmers and woodsmen. This unique perspective sets Midlake apart from other bands. Thematically, the only thing remotely similar I can think of is Neil Young’s ‘Powderfinger’, if only for the deep investment in the characters.
Musically, The Courage of Others is reminiscent of Van Occupanther with some changes. The compelling folk rock laden with harmonies and the best use of flute since ‘Aqualung’ remains, but the songs are slower and more introspective this time around, fitting the bleak winter theme. Lead single ‘Acts of Man’ stands as a good marker for the tone of much of the album, weary and acoustic. Despite lacking an outright rocker like ‘Roscoe’, the album does have its edgier moments, including ‘Children of the Grounds’ and the epic freakout at the end of ‘Winter Dies’.
I always appreciate when a band follows through on a concept. Rather than simply use their link to the past as a gimmick, history is an intrinsic part of Midlake’s music. Few bands have the ability to warp you to another time and place, with The Courage of Others Midlake has proven themselves one of those bands.