BEST OF 2011: 14. The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy

Having crept quietly into the racks in June, this album’s creators decided to call it a day less than two months later and, as a result, it pretty much sank without trace. Its absence from so many end of year lists is staggering as, much like ‘Last Of The Country Gentlemen’, listening to ‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ is an all-consuming experience. Imagine that Explosions In The Sky had eaten Cashier No. 9 (two bands who just missed the thirty) and you’ll have a rough idea of what this remarkable record sounds like.

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This is one of those albums where it’s hard to really pin down what about it is so good, simply because it does so many different things. The vocals here belong in the world of indie music, even if the band around them aren’t always convinced that things are quite that simple. There are gear shifts aplenty, without it ending up sounding like a compilation of odds and sods. Opener ‘Black Death 1349’ suggests that maudlin, ethereal indie-rock is where we’re going, not contradicted by the unsettling whine which precedes the funereal ‘My Grandma Was Pearl Hall’. But we’re only four songs in when lead-off track and mild alternative radio smash ‘Jesus Came To My Birthday Party’ jangles into life, fuzzy guitar noodling subsiding into lo-fi, low-key Eighties American college rock. You’ll hum, you’ll sway and you’ll put it on compilations.

Land Of The Bloody Unknown’ has a swoonsome, early Decemberists chug to it and ‘Ninth Avenue Reverie’ is a gorgeous, early Seventies-evoking, acoustic number. ‘Sydney To Newcastle’, with  its field recordings feel, accompanied by a spacious piano piece, could fit on a Max Richter album, while ‘Mount Morgan’ is a relatively successful excursion into post-rock. ‘Hunger Song’ possesses glorious harmonies and a drum-beat which wouldn’t scare away Mumfords fans, all folksy-hoedown and plinky-plonky, such as it is. Just – breathe easy – without actually having Mumfords on it.

Whilst at first the fluid approach to genre and sound can make the record seem fragmented, repeated plays give it space to breathe and time to ensnare you. You’ll keep finding yourself thinking “oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that one” for a while, as there’s much to take in. For me, it took a walk in the rain, with the album seeping up from the background noise, for it to suddenly coalesce into something which has held my attention ever since. They may be gone, but ‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ does not deserve to be forgotten.

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