Whimsy Ain’t As Easy As the Foxes Make It out to Be

    The Courage of Others

    Midlake

    Bella Union

    Ye Olde Radiohead in Renaissance times: that’s Midlake’s flute-driven shtick on The Courage of Others, its third album and most Faire-folky by far. Midlake’s production values have skyrocketed since the lo-fi psych pop of debut Bamnan and Slivercork, and now frontman Tim Smith and company don flowing robes and give in to hippie pagan pageantry. Before they were praying to the gods of Flaming Lips and Sgt. Pepper, but now they’ve definitely got Jethro Tull’s serene folk in their reverent, yet morose guitar mantras.

    And morose mantras are exactly how you’d classify Courage’s 11 burn-outs, for they all feature arpeggio acoustic guitars layered en masse, Middle-Earthy flute jams and medieval minstrel harmonies. It’s hard not to feel inundated by woodsy vibes frolicking hereto and thereupon each and every track.

    Take opener and lead single “Acts of Man,” where Smith nobly proclaims “And when the acts of man/ Cause the ground to break open/ Oh, let me inside, let me inside, not to wait” like a prophecy on the altar. It’s a portent of what’s to come: 10 more tracks that cry wolf in the same mid-tempo snooze zone. The LP’s procession is carefully crafted, to be sure, but a few Neil Young-esque rock numbers thrown in the mix would’ve fit perfectly in this super-serious throwback and corrected Courage’s finger-plucked slouch toward boredom.

    As it stands, the best variation of its stoic folk mold is the title track, with a gorgeous flute and acoustic-chord pairing that ascends as Smith recites “He trembles alone” over and over with sputtering electric guitars filling silence. Fleet Foxes made it look so easy.

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