“Roscoe,” Midlake’s signature tune, unabashedly paid homage to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and the bulk of the Denton, Texas, indie-psych group’s 2006 breakthrough, The Trials of Van Occupanther, was a nod to Laurel Canyon folk-rock, with a 19th-century conceptual twist. Now, on the band’s eccentric, sometimes-brilliant fourth album, Antiphon, Midlake is effectively Fleetwood Mac in reverse, as the less-than-amicable (and long-secret) exit of singer-songwriter Tim Smith (consider him a combination of Buckingham and Nicks) thankfully finds the now-sextet musically naked, using lyrics as broad, complementary brushstrokes rather than candles lighting the way through the dark woods.
Unlike 2010’s The Courage of Others, which was panned by Midlake fans as Smith’s self-indulgent medieval plaything and propped up by mainstream music rags looking to save face after missing Van Occupanther altogether, Antiphon is, well, listenable. From the sinewy title track’s intoxicating opening groove — thick bass, drums, and synth that set an eerily funky setting for the entire record — to guitarist-turned-frontman Eric Pulido’s steady, sincere, nerdy-meets-folkloric lyrics and vocals, Antiphon is modern prog-rock defined. Lines like with bird in hand and I cried for the land (“Provider”) and sit by the fire till the morning comes/telling of stories/how we could leave the others (“Aurora Gone”) are juxtaposed with flute and carefully fingerpicked acoustic guitars, along with synth and precise, slow-motion grooves to reveal how a Seventies arena-rock stalwart such as Jethro Tull might have come of age amid shoegaze.
Pulido doesn’t have Smith’s vocal range or lyrical vision, but Antiphon succeeds in showcasing the music of one of America’s most talented and enjoyable rock groups. (ATO Records)