This Autumn Midlake will celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Trials of Van Occupanther with a deluxe reissue via Bella Union on 180g gold vinyl, complete with a B2 pull-out poster, handwritten lyrics and previously unseen photos. The cover artwork has been reimagined in a fittingly flushed, hallucinatory painting by neo-impressionist (and pavement-scorching skateboarder) Brian Lotti. The original album will be accompanied by a special bonus 7” featuring two previously unreleased tracks, the plaintive rolling lament of “The Fairest Way” and the revelatory psychedelic swirl of “Festival”, two tracks recorded before original vocalist Tim Smith departed the band.
In 2006, Van Occupanther was hailed as an instant classic and over the course of the next year proved to be the band’s commercial breakthrough. While their debut, 2004’s Bamnan and Slivercork, had drawn acclaim alongside comparisons to Grandaddy and Radiohead, Midlake looked further afield and deeper within for the follow-up. Suffused with a romantic yearning for the simpler life, this was a record pitched between 1871, 1971 and somewhere out of time: between Henry David Thoreau and Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, between 1970s Laurel Canyon thinking and a longing for something more mysterious. Rich reserves of wistful melody, dreamy horns, rolling guitars and plaintive pianos reflect its elusive, idiosyncratic narratives: a couple long to be robbed by bandits so they can start anew, an outcast scientist ponders his pariah status, a woman chases a frisky deer, a river leads who knows where yet leaves you little choice but to follow…
Famous admirers included Thom Yorke, Beck, The Flaming Lips, Paul Weller, James Dean Bradfield, St Vincent, actor/skateboarder Jason Lee and The Chemical Brothers, and the album went on to secure high placings in the end-of-year polls. Since then, their influence has perhaps been felt in the breakthrough of many a band or singer at one with the stuff of beards, bucolic yearning and blissful West Coast harmonies, from Fleet Foxes to Band of Horses, The Low Anthem, Jonathan Wilson, Matthew E White and beyond.
Not that Midlake stood still to lap up the praise: a band acutely attuned to nature’s shifts, they embraced change. In 2010 they ventured into darker psych-folk thickets for The Courage of Others and backed John Grant on his celebrated breakthrough album, Queen of Denmark. When Tim Smith subsequently departed, guitarist/singer Eric Pulido stepped up to the lead vocal role for 2013’s freshly exploratory Antiphon. Since then, Pulido and various Midlake members have embarked on a new musical project with a cast of all-stars including members of Grandaddy, Franz Ferdinand, Band of Horses and Travis, for an album due for release next year. All of this serves to reminds us what fertile seeds were sown with The Trials of Van Occupanther: a modern classic, made of vintage craft and timeless magic.
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