Nine years have passed since Midlake’s last album, Antiphon, which saw guitarist Eric Pulido assume leadership after the departure of original frontman Tim Smith.
The break has very much worked in the group’s favour. For The Sake Of Bethel Woods is far less moribund than its predecessor. Although its subject matter is intensely personal: ruminations on the illness, passing of time and dying, the feel is one of great positivity. The album’s cover is a picture of keyboard player Jesse Chandler’s late father at the Woodstock Festival, hence the Bethel Woods of the album’s title.
Producer John Congleton ensures this is the cleanest the group have ever sounded, without losing their mystery. The playing is exhilarating – Feast Of Carrion sounds like Nursery Cryme-era Genesis meeting Crosby, Stills & Nash and the hi-life guitar figure on Glistening is fabulous; Gone offers a wonky prog-funk that evokes The Old And The Young from Antiphon. For those waiting for Van Occupanther II, …Bethel Woods comes pretty close. There’s little flab here; it has enough shadowy pastoralism to keep old fans on board, and a pop-prog sensibility to pique the interest of newcomers.