It was mere months before the arrival of ‘Antiphon’ that news broke about singer and main songwriter Tim Smith having left Midlake some time previous. I’d been badgering Bella Union’s rather lovely PR about this release, having obsessed over 2010’s ‘The Courage Of Others’. I was advised that something special was on the way, but had no idea about the personnel change. Shortly after the news came the first play of the album’s title track and it seemed that everything was going to be ok. Where many had bemoaned the slower, single-paced aspects of that last album, I had connected with its wallowing, melancholic landscape and was rather keen for more. Not that that ever really works. Nobody actually wants their favourite bands to keep releasing the same album over and over again. Although such thoughts very nearly wrecked ‘Antiphon’ for me.
Initial listens were pleasing but not revelatory, and it is easy enough to get gently swept along with the chiming riffs, layered harmonies and lolloping drums. There’s a slightly rockier heft poking through here, but it’s not their ‘XTRMNTR’. Instead, the band appear to have regrouped after the creative impasse that led to Smith’s departure by trusting their instincts and letting the songs take their own paths. As a result, there are some rather less conventional tracks, including instrumental storm ‘Vale’ and the world-weary strung out closer ‘Provider Reprise’. The track being reprised is a fine burst of the soft-rock folksy warmth for which they became loved, but it is surpassed by the shimmering, punchy ‘The Old And The Young’, with one of those chorus that explodes out of the proceeding verse like Mentos in a bottle of coke.
I suspect a fondness for their work to date makes it easier to dig below the surface of ‘Antiphon’. It’s not a record that screams to be heard, but it is a remarkable attempt to salvage a stalemate. Written and recorded in six months after several years of increasingly resolute artistic deadlock, it benefits from a lack of fussing. They’re still Midlake and it very much sounds like a Midlake album. Maybe not ‘The Courage Of Others’ so much as ‘The Trials Of Van Occupanther’, but even then this is a heavier incarnation with the shroud lifted and the riffs pointed to the heavens.