By DYLAN BROWN
“The Old and the Young” encapsulates the Midlake sound on their fourth album, a rock departure from their typically soft indie-folk. Old, like their genre’s prime is a decade past their melding of harmonious vocals, and post-rock are reminiscent of Minus the Bear. Young like they’re just going to keep playing exactly what they want to and well.
The Denton, Texas, crew recently lost their lead singer and principal songwriter Tim Smith to burn out, but they have continued on without him in the new record.
“We wanted to embrace the psychedelia, style and nuance you might hear in bands of yesteryear,” guitarist Eric Pulido said, while incorporating modern influences. “The result was less folk and more rock. Less nostalgic and more progressive.”
Plenty of nostalgia remains, however, as Midlake harkens back to the Moody Blues with their classical composition filled with strings, flute and harp on “Aurora Gone” and “Provider Reprise.” The sweeping wave of sound accompanies lyrics with a poetry seemingly centuries old, filled with words like “nevermore” and “unto.”
They use vocal harmonies, a la the Beach Boys, in much the same way as another contemporary group, Fleet Foxes — just with a different end goal. Their voices, like a choir of monks in a dusty Renaissance cathedral, glide just above the post rock, filling in the spaces between clanging guitar reverb. Where Fleet Foxes are earthly folk, Midlake is rock for the final frontier.
The album is definitely more rock, particularly at its onset with the title track and “Provider.” Where Smith may have kept the group’s atmospheric drone on the overcast-day folk side, the rest of the band explores a more electric and modern sound throughout “Antiphon,” which Pulido said “is the most honest representation of the band as a whole.”
The sequel to this year’s Grammy winner for R&B Album of the Year parallels its predecessor right from the first track — another star-studded roll call of notable collaborators.
“Black Radio 2” is not, however, “The Hangover II.” The threat of being perceived as a money grab capitalizing on the success of “Black Radio” is usually lost when the driving force behind a sequel is a jazz pianist who apologizes to those he forgot to thank for their help putting together a record with “blame the mind, not the heart.”
To shake off what he saw as modern jazz’s complacency, Robert Glasper integrated his deft fingers and musicianship with modern soul, hip-hop and rhythm and blues, bringing in names like Erykah Badu and Lupe Fiasco on “Black Radio.” On “Black Radio 2,” he and his band are the underpinnings for the likes of Common, Norah Jones and Snoop Dogg.
The album is heavy on the sickly sweet neo-R&B all too prevalent in the 1990s and into the new millennium. Who knew UPN sitcom star Brandy, featured on “What Are We Doing,” was even still making music? While the jazz understructure is always solid and engaging, but the vocals frequently have a little too much gloss, like the pink shimmer your baby sister coats on too thick. Everything is just a bit too clean and middle class, but you will still bob your head along to the beat.
The album is at its best when the smooth jazz is at the forefront on tracks like rainy torch song “Calls,” performed by Jill Scott, or with a frenetic hi-hat and quietly sullen keyboard to underlie Norah Jones’ vocals on “Let It Ride” .
The album’s two hip-hop tracks are a miss and a hit. On “I Stand Alone,” Common is just a little bit too inspirational and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump’s chorus is a bizarre contribution, but Snoop Dogg brings home the underlying message of “Black Radio” on “Persevere,” rapping alongside Lupe Fiasco.
“Black power — look I’m trying to bring the meaning back.”
Robert Glasper searched his musical roots, including a solid cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children” to finish out the album, and he does nobly to push jazz and R&B forward, whether you think it’s in a rut or not.
Brown may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2278. Follow him on Twitter @DylanBrown26.