The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union)

Midlake 

The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union)

Whenever I was a child, I wondered what if my name had changed into something more productive, like Roscoe, been born in 1891, ponders Midlake singer Tim Smith on "Roscoe," the first track from the band's second full-length, The Trials of Van Occupanther. The truth is, it probably wouldn't have mattered — time seems to have played no role in shaping the lush melodies and hand-carved storytelling that come together to form this gem of an album. That's not to say that Occupanther is without its generational influences — quite the opposite. For nearly 45 minutes, Smith and his three bandmates meander through a vast catalog of '70s influences, including gritty cigarettes-for-breakfast guitars ("Roscoe," "In This Camp") and melancholy, Bread-inspired harmonies ("We Gathered in Spring," "Head Home"). But while this Dallas, Texas, band borrows more heavily from the '70s than most bands in its league, Midlake avoids the nostalgic rip-off move. What sets Occupanther apart is its colloquial, literary storyline, which juxtaposes cash-strapped farm communities with tales of self-discovery. It's an odd combination, but for some reason, it just works. In fact, this album is so good, it may even have you wondering: Sufjan who?

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