Midlake — Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)

Listening to Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther is a lot like taking a walk on one of those idyllic summer days, when the birds are singing, the sun is out, the sky is that vivid blue and you’re thinking to yourself, “what a great day.” And then a gentle breeze dances through the tree leaves, brushing your face and running through your hair, and you think to yourself, “wow, today is amazing.”

In the same way, in many of the songs on this album (notably “You Never Arrived” and “Van Occupanther”) the listener is carried along by simple, earthy instrumentation. It’s nothing amazing, but it instills a pleasant contentedness. Then, the song unexpectedly lifts off in soaring harmonies. The striking thing about this album is how it sets the listener up to be surprised by beauty.

However, Van Occupanther’s appeal does not end in its music. Lyrically, the work is just as captivating. Themes that are prevalent throughout the album include the themes of community, intimacy with the earth and wariness concerning industrialism. “Chasing After Deer” acknowledges man’s limited control over nature. “Bandits” makes appeals for anti-materialism and local economy. “Young Bride” asks questions about the worth of industrialism. Interestingly enough, the lyrics and ideas often seem like echoes of the thoughts of agrarian writer Wendell Berry (just read his poem “The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front”).

The work as a whole is a remarkable piece of escapism. It’s almost enough to make one want to move to the woods with nothing but the essentials (and perhaps a CD player to listen to Midlake). With this beautiful album in mind, it is important to remember that it’s human brokeness, not location or social institution that is man’s chief problem.

-Dan Dickerman


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