Summary

Midlake already had the bulk of their fourth long-player in the can when lead vocalist and songwriter Tim Smith announced that he was leaving the mercurial Lone Star State indie rockers to start a new project. Smith's shape-shifting songwriting style and idiosyncratic voice guided the band through three very different-sounding records, so it should come as no surprise that 2013’s aptly named Antiphon (a short sentence sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle), which finds guitarist Eric Pulido at the helm, is both an invocation of past digressions and a stylistic leap of faith. Less heady than 2010’s English folk-imbued Courage of Others, yet retaining its overcast, Fleet Foxes-meets Meddle-era Pink Floyd ambience, Antiphon sounds more like the work of a band and less like the fleshed-out audio installations of a bandleader. Pulido's even-keeled voice and enigmatic lyrics are close enough to Smith's to alleviate any scarring (casual Midlake fans will probably be none the wiser), but his version of the group, while still steeped in the harmony-laden, smoky patina of '70s AOR pop, is less brooding than Smith's. There's a breezy melancholy and a winning, natural compression to cuts like "The Old and the Young," the serpentine title track, and the lush "Aurora Gone," the latter of which sounds the most like something off of their 2006 breakthrough Trials of Van Occupanther, that sets the nervous system at ease, imbuing meatier cuts like "It's Going Down" and the snaky, Calexico-informed instrumental "Vale" with a rich sunset glow that belies their sonic amplitude. To be fair, the band still sounds like they could break into "Breathe" at any moment, but there's a sense of adventure and a vulnerability to Antiphon that suggests that this latest incarnation of the group is more interested in what's beyond the Dark Side of the Moon than it is standing in its shadow. ~ James Christopher Monger