Midlake | The Courage of Others
Most Likely To: be listened to by a lamb laying down on Broadway.
Should you ever feel yourself with a burning need to pick a fight with an indie-rock fan, just tell them that one of their favorite bands plays prog. Oh, how they hate that! They will froth at the mouth and shake their finger in your face and call damnation and hellfire down upon your house and all who dwell in it. You might as well tell a red state Republican that George Washington would be completely mystified by modern day evangelical Christianity. They ain’t gonna be happy to hear it.
One can hardly blame the indie fans for getting upset, of course. They’ve been sold a bill of goods their entire lives that prog rock was the most horrible thing to ever happen to music and was so unhip and uncool that punk had to come along and clear it away, and if there’s one thing an indie fan wants to believe, it’s that what he listens to is a direct descendant of punk rock. So to be told that what they like is in fact the exact thing punk supposedly rebelled against, well, that’s a paradox that is hard to wrap one’s head around, and thus new labels like “freak-folk” need to be invented as a coping mechanism.
The thing that’s missed in the equation is that the idea that prog sucked is a complete myth in the first place. Prog sucked only when the bands playing it sucked. Turn a great band like King Crimson or Traffic loose on it and it was pretty damn good. And it’s not like critically untouchable scenes like CBGB’s or London punk didn’t unleash their fair share of stinkers, too–take a quick listen to the likes of Tuff Darts or Slaughter and the Dogs and you’ll be begging to hear some Yes. But in the case of prog, the baby was definitely thrown out with the bathwater and hipsters have spent three decades now trying to deny its existence, even as more and more of their favorite bands have taken to playing it.
My favorites of the first wave of prog were Genesis, who blended genteel English folk traditions with gonzo psychedelic epics like that of a little girl whose music box was haunted by the ghost of a little boy she’d beheaded with a croquet mallet or a cat getting his comeuppance at the paws of a giant mouse. Hell, they dedicated an entire double album to the story of a Puerto Rican graffiti artist stumbling around New York City with his penis in a tube around his neck hallucinating sheep taking naps in traffic. Some will have been trained to scoff at such notions, but I think they were pretty damn cool. And I think their best current descendants came to prominence with a concept album about an anthropomorphic Dutch panther traveling through the backwoods of American folklore.
Yeah, I mean Midlake, and when I say the reason I love Midlake is because they are a great prog band, I mean it as the sincerest compliment imaginable. I defy anyone to listen to the excellent “Children of the Grounds” on their fantastic new album The Courage of Others and not think of Genesis’ Steve Hackett when the mellow folk groove suddenly bursts into shredding electric guita. That move used to be Hackett’s bread and butter and it’s great to hear someone new doing it. Elsewhere, the Texas combo brings in touches of the late ‘60s cult acid-folk combo Pearls Before Swine for unsettling psychedelia. “bring down” has a vaguely medieval feel, not unlike a high school madrigal troupe tripping on ‘shrooms.
I suppose it’s probably bad form to have spent an entire review of Midlake prattling on about how great Genesis was, but whatever. Old farts who agree with me about the greatness of Genesis or King Crimson owe it to themselves to check out Midlake. Members of the Pitchfork generation who love Midlake owe it to themselves to check out the old school proggers for themselves and quit relying on conventional wisdom. If everyone just takes my advice, the generations will co-exist in peace and harmony and mellow vibes will overtake the world.
View a trailer for The Courage of Others below: