Midlake The Trials of Van Occupanther

When they first appeared back in 2004, Texan band Midlake possessed a lo-fi psychedelic sound that garnered comparisons to Grandaddy. It also won them their fair share of critical acclaim, and a famous fan in the shape of My Name Is Earl star Jason Lee, who took it upon himself to promote the band at every opportunity. Something has really changed with the release of their sophomore album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, and these days the band wouldn’t sound out of place on a ’70s AM radio station. With layer upon layer of vocal harmonies that seem equal part Beach Boys and CSNY, Midlake have gone from being a merely good band to a great band. It is hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes The Trials of Van Occupanther so special — especially considering it isn’t the most adventurous record. Instead, it settles down after the first few tracks and doesn’t stray too far from the sound established in the beginning. Yet, there is something so very beguiling about this new Midlake that nobody could have predicted after their debut appeared. Lyrically, Van Occupanther is a cryptic record, hinting at strange goings-on in the life of the eponymous character without giving too much away, but it is all secondary to the gorgeous music that reflects the better musical moments of Fleetwood Mac, America and their ilk. And that is supposed to be a compliment, even if might not seem like one. It might not sound convincing on paper, but one listen to the opening track "Roscoe” will win over all but the hardest of hearts. Quite simply, this is one of the year’s best albums. (Bella Union Ltd.)