The song "Van Occupanther" from Midlake's very good 2006 album The Trials of Van Occupanther, contained the lines "Sometimes I want to go home and stay out of sight for a long time./ Let me not be too concerned with the world." Now three and a half years later, it seems singer and main songwriter Tim Smith found some time to do just that. Midlake's third-full length, The Courage of Others, is an intense study in dark, all-encompassing loneliness and self-exploration by way of interaction with nature, both in terms of its explicit lyrical content and the general vibe of the music. It's far from a party record, but impressively, it's even farther from a boring record.
Reviews of Van Occupanther always made mention of similarities to Fleetwood Mac. In retrospect, it was probably a bit overdone--more a result of critics reading other critics, or at least letting one or two songs weigh too prominently in their impression of the entire record. This time around, with The Courage of Others, the main talking point is British folk music of the 60s and 70s, when acoustic troubadours embraced prog and jazz--Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Spirogyra--and it's more apt than the Fleetwood Mac thing ever was. Smith's vocals are generally understated, sitting very low in the mix; the acoustic guitars occasionally seem quite obviously informed by Bert Jansch; instruments easily identified as electric are used sparingly, more as ambience than a centerpiece; the flute, for christ's sake, plays a prominent role.
The album has been read as too direct a quote of a very specific sound from the past, which would be a more legitimate complaint were Courage not so consistently redeemed by a sense of movement that's as surprising as it is welcome. It sways and swells, lurches forward, drifts sideways, always thinning out before subtly being built back up again. What could come off as a cold, detached re-telling is instead remarkably warm and personal--an album that grabs, and then rewards, your close attention.