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Trials of Van Occupanther

4.4 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Audio CD, July 25, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

The Trials of Van Occupanther channels Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac through Texas' answer to Thom Yorke. With lead track "Roscoe" gaining over 100k downloads within weeks of hitting the blogosphere and tours with the Flaming Lips in both the US & Europe, Midlake are poised for something bigger than flavor-of-the-day indie rock.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (July 25, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Bella Union
  • ASIN: B000FVQYJK
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,021 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 22, 2006
Format: Audio CD
Midlake debuted with a sparkling collection of Grandaddy-covers-Flaming-Lipsesque rock, and they grow more into their fuzzy-folk-rock sound in their second full-length album, "The Trials of Van Occupanther, with swirling instrumentals, a rockier sound, and a feeling of pastoral unrest.

It opens with the rippling guitar and mellow vocals of "Roscoe," which sways through on a smooth folk-rocky path. "Stonecutters made them from stones/Chosen specially for you and I/Who will live inside?" sings Tim Smith, as he sings about rain-drenched gardens and cedar houses.

Then it's time for the melodic folk of "Bandits" and the rippling pop-rock of "Head Home." As the album goes on, Midlake tries out all sorts of music -- fluting folk about exhausted scientists, swirling lo-fi rock, exquisite piano ballads, sunny pastoral sounds, and mellow tunes about chasing after deer.

Listening to "The Trials of Van Occupanther" is like being outside on a late spring day, lying on the grass and watching the clouds drift by. Even when they try out some odder stuff, Midlake's second album is full of the beauty and awe of nature, in all sorts of ways. "For myself I must remind/that the woods are usually kind"...

The music is centered on the acoustic and electric guitar, forming swirls of psychedelic indiepop and gentle folk/dance. And there's plenty of solid percussion and sparklin sweeps of analog synth to keep it colorful, while other songs have the piano and a delicate flute behind them. One of the best moments is "Branches," an eerily adoring little ballad that slowly soars up.

And the lyrics are equally strong -- bittersweet and slightly fantastical.
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Imagine this: Thom Yorke, having just finished Emerson's "Self-Reliance," finds Neil Young (who is carving bars of soap into deer, elk and bear shapes) and they decide to go jam at Blue Oyster Cult's house (I assume Blue Oyster Cult all live in the same house). On the way, they pick up Lindsay Buckingham, who just happens to be out splitting kindling as Thom and Neil, hastily-packed bags slung over their shoulders, a bottle of clear, home-brewed liquid being passed between them, amble by rosy cheeked and smiling. Peeking from the woods on the other side of the (dirt) road is Sufjan Stevens, obscured by trees, who, though unnoticed, tips his hat as if to say, "I ain't mad at'cha."

Yes, Midlake's influences obscure their songs on the first listen, but give this album some time, and it becomes pure Midlake and damn--oh so damn!--good.
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I saw Midlake at festival recently and had never heard of them. The live set was strong enough to convince me to order some albums and I'm now a solid fan. The opening track, Roscoe, reminds me a bit of Adrian Belew, a bit of XTC and a whole lot of Midlake themselves. It's like suddenly realizing how Coldplay should sound. The music is layered and atmospheric with a bit of an eels feel. Midlake is definitely their own band, for all the influences I'm throwing out. They make the sort of music that feels old, like your favorite album you lost long ago. Try 'Roscoe' or 'Young Bride' for an indication of their style. If you like either of those, you need to buy the album.
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Format: Audio CD
Back in 2004 when I first heard it, I had not paid much attention to Midlake's first record, Bamnan and Silvercork; not that I found it a poor first effort from the Denton-based band, far from it, but I was left with the taste of something unfinished, with a band that was still working through their (impressive) list of influences. Two years later, I chanced upon a live recording of "Roscoe" and "Van Occupanther" on the radio and I knew that I was hearing something special, nothing short of a small miracle.

I find it intriguing that the name of Radiohead (probably my favorite band ever) should appear so often in reviews about this "Trials of Van Occupanther". If they have anything in common, it's probably this apparent (yet not so) staggering transformation from ugly little ducks to majestuous swans - although I would argue that in both cases, the seeds of their musical genius could already be found in their respective first albums.

Certainly, Radiohead has profoundly influenced Midlake (this is particularly obvious on "Branches", which would not have been out of place on an EP of the "Ok Computer" era), and in particular the singing of Tim Smith, but unlike many bands which are still clumsily struggling to comprehend the riches of "Ok Computer" or even "The Bends", Midlake has succeeded in not only understanding, but also seamlessly merging that influence with many others, Fleetwood Mac and America immediately springing to mind. As a result, "The Trials of...." proposes a musical landscape both familiar and foreign, drawn by layers upon layers of melodies deceivingly simple where you feel oddly at home although you've never quite been there before.
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