Pleasant but never bland, Midlake's For The Sake Of Bethel Woods mulls over time, illness and innocence

Folk-proggers Midlake streamline to set their soul free on For The Sake Of Bethel Woods

Midlake: For The Sake Of Bethel Woods cover art
(Image: © Bella Union)

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It’s debatable whether they’d take this as a compliment, but Midlake have learned to relax. Their fifth album, their first in just shy of a decade, is perhaps their most purely enjoyable, eschewing the furrow-browed genre-jumbling of earlier work. 

It’s the atypical Texans’ second with Eric Pulido singing (Tim Smith left in 2012), and allows some sultry soft rock to breathe without worrying whether it’s scoring alt.folk points. So it exhales warm gusts of Boz Scaggs or Josh Rouse, as the tricksy, Tull-like prog tropes of yore are kept to a minimum. 

As ever, pleasant shouldn’t be mistaken for bland. The album mulls over time, illness and innocence, while the spirits of Neil Young and Stephen Stills set the temperature. 

Their first with an outside producer – John Congleton (St. Vincent, John Grant, Blondie) – it’s especially elegant around its mid-section (Feast Of Carrion, Noble). Midlake have gone back to the garden.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.