Midlake – For the Love of Bethel Woods
Bella Union – March 18, 2022
Midlake does not appear to be a chance group. Yet there is undoubtedly a sense of serendipity in their re-emergence as a band, also reflected in the image of Dave Chandler, father of Midlake bassist Jesse, who appears on the cover of For the Sake of Bethel Woods. There are also equal amounts of mystery. Dave had been to Woodstock (which was located in Bethel Woods) in 1969, appearing briefly in the film and on the album cover. Chandler lost his father in 2018, but in a dream two years later Dave appeared to his son, urging Midlake to reunite.
The journey to the meeting was not particularly easy. Their latest album,Antiphon”, was not easy to achieve. Following the departure of Tim Smith in 2012 (interviewed here), the band threw away two years of recordings and started over. Six months later, they had an album. Eric Pulido, who is now lead vocalist in addition to his former duties as guitarist, described the album as “a fluid feel, concise structure…very Midlake, but oddly rebooted and relaxed”. And then nothing. It had all been too much for them.
However, the long wait for another album is finally over. Encapsulated in the sound of the first single, “Meanwhile” is a group that seems to be having fun again. Where previous albums have taken forever to come together, “For the Sake of Bethel Woods” sounds like a band that has taken control of the moment and thinks nothing more. Slowly, gently, they take matters into their own hands, the guitars sound like keyboards and the keyboards sound like, well, keyboards as the song chronicles Dave’s appearance to Jesse and the resounding feeling of getting back to work.
The album’s opening track “Commune” is just 54 seconds long, setting up the album with the opening line, “I’ve been gone too long / Lost and alone without a common.” A vaguely Spanish-sounding guitar strums as the keyboards hint at the changing nature of the band. Becoming even clearer on “Bethel Woods”, the drums rumble with vengeance, virtually ignoring the quieter keyboard passage below. As a demarcation point between past and present, you can hear the band being serious, but underneath there’s a notion of “Hey look ma, we’re having fun here.”
“Sparkling” slides over the speakers, illustrating nuances that never seemed to exist in the band’s previous era. Yet they haven’t lost their sense of experimenting with sounds to find new nuances. The irons have been removed. Recharged and invigorated, they are ready to take on the world. The combination of flutes and layered vocals on “Exile” sends the song into uncharted territory. There is a feeling of liberation in the music. No one is holding them back.
If Midlake has not deserted the sounds of yesteryear, they have reinterpreted the repertoire on For the Love of Bethel Woods, seeming more willing to experiment with the different pieces that make up their music. Not content to just turn the fray, Midlake seems to really take the lead and go where that spirit leads.
Pre-order For the Love of Bethel Woods: https://ffm.to/midlake-ftsobw1