Imagine you’re an indie rock band with several critically acclaimed albums under your belt. You embark on a new project, you spend months writing, rehearsing and preparing, and in the middle of recording…your frontman and primary songwriter leaves the band. It’s truly a do-or-die moment, because your band basically has to undergo a heart transplant in order to survive—let alone measure up to the bar set by your previous work.
What do you do? Do you finish the record and try to carry on? Do you re-form? Do you change your name? Or do you call it quits?
Fortunately for all of us, when Midlake faced this do-or-die moment last year with the departure of Tim Smith, they chose to do, not die. They scrapped their previous work and started over. They put guitarist Eric Pulido into the lead singer/songwriter spot. And in six months’ time, they did the unthinkable: they put out a record that not only does the band justice, but carries them into a new era. Such is Antiphon.
Now, fair warning to Midlake fans: this album definitely marks a new sense of direction, so don’t expect it to sound the same as their earlier stuff. While the signature airy, mystical Midlake vibe is definitely there, the band wisely crafted something new based on the strengths of their current lineup, rather than trying to mimic the old. Thus, Antiphon takes a step away from folk-rock and ventures more into a prog-rock flavor. (Think less Fleetwood Mac, more Pink Floyd.) The production is more spacey, heavier on reverb and effects, and there is more of an exploratory feel to the album accentuated by numerous instrumental passages—almost as if the band have walked into a whole new place and are looking over their new surroundings. It’s meandering at times, but never lost. Pulido’s vocals are understated, but effective—and when they are enhanced by a little bit of chorus, reverb and harmonies, the vocal sits perfectly with the whole feel of the record.
Is Antiphon “better” than Midlake’s earlier work? That’s a tough call. Although the record certainly shows growth for the band, the best word to describe it is “different” more than “better.” There’s enough of the original Midlake here not to have gone under a new moniker, but without Tim Smith at the helm, it’s unrealistic to think they would move in the same direction. There will likely be a few old-school fans of Midlake who won’t care as much for it because it is by necessity a musical departure for the band. However, taken on its own merit, Antiphon is artistic, multi-layered and highly creative, and certainly lives up to expectations on those levels. And when you consider that this record was created in six months from concept to completion after losing a key player—that’s something in and of itself. Midlake have taken what could have been their death knell and turned it into a new beginning.