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Music Picks

Thought Old-School Albums Were Dead?

They're ba-ack! Midlake's secret gems.

By Elaine Corden 22 Nov 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Elaine Corden writes regularly about music and pop culture for The Tyee.

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11-track wonder I play near ad-nauseum.

One of the perils of writing about music for an (almost) living is that no one will ever make you mixed tapes. Spout your mouth off for long enough about bands being overrated, underrated, overexposed or criminally unknown, and people will stop letting you in on secrets gems they've found, fearing, quite rightly, that you'll roll your eyes, or produce a rare EP from the band in question, like, from before they were famous.

I can only assume this is why The Trials of Van Occupanther, by Texan outfit Midlake, didn't make its way to me sooner. Released in summer of 2006, this 11-track wonder finally arrived in my ear canal in September 2007, and ever since, I've been playing it near ad-nauseam, forcing anyone who comes within 10 feet of my stereo to listen to this "new" band I've found. In other news: sliced bread.

Essentially a concept album about a man, Van Occupanther, living in a sort of pastoral dystopia, Trials is a record for those who miss records. From opening track "Roscoe," an endlessly listenable track which recalls both Fleetwood Mac and the non-awful output of Jefferson Starship, to the cheesy synthed "We Gathered In Spring," to the closing track, "You Never Arrived," all the songs on Trials are sonically and lyrically simpatico, pieces of a whole album as opposed to scattershot flights of brilliance tacked together by some hackneyed cover art. It's like the band never heard of iTunes.

For that reason, it's hard to pick one track off the record. The aforementioned "Roscoe" enjoyed the most spins when I initially acquired the album, but the sounds-awful-on-paper "Young Bride," with its Chinese violin, disco-influenced drums and Crosby, Stills and Nash-style vocal harmonies is currently my favourite. Here is as good a place as any to mention that several songs on the record recall much-chided prog outfit The Alan Parsons Project. One of the perils of listening to Midlake is that you may find yourself suddenly extolling the virtues of "Eye In The Sky."

Really, it's almost criminal to break the songs up. For a band to make the unfashionable move of releasing a 1970s-style concept album, despite the fact that industry experts everywhere are pronouncing traditional albums dead, is a bold move. It may not contain a catchy, ready-for-your-iPod track, and it may, therefore, take a while to find its way to your ears, but, long after you're sick of those 99-cent singles (sad really, that Biggie Fries at Wendy's and the latest New Pornographers single enjoy the same price point), this album will endure.

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