Another week, another record to drink tasty beverages to. Or at least that’s what my wife would probably accuse me of. Today, I want to take a step back and listen to one of the greatest folk/rock albums to be put to vinyl – in my humble opinion of course. I’m actually a bit surprised it took this long for me to cue up this record again as it was a near daily listen for almost half a decade back when the album was released.
I realize that Midlake may not be the biggest band ever, but they started here in North Texas just a stone’s throw from my stomping grounds and it was easy to find them in the local bars before they “made it big”.
Anyways, let’s get on with it.
The system for my listening journey recently has been a joy to use and listen to. As far as tubes are concerned, this is the best this system has sounded in a long while.
On the front-end is my trusty Rega RP10 which will probably be with me until the end. That or if I get sent a new one to review (hint hint Rega if you’re listening). After making its way through a Rega Aria, we arrive at the Triode Lab Au Pre Hi-Game Pre-Amplifier. That’s a mouthful every time! Of note, this pre-amp uses 12AU7 which is pretty unusual for a pre-amplifier next to the far-more-standard 12AX7. The Au-Pre does include a very nice phono stage and I hope to write about it in particular soon.
The Au Pre is feeding two Triode Lab EL84M-FFX monoblocks. These are EL84 parallel push-pull powerhouses that put out a beautiful 26 watts per channel. I have yet to see a speaker these can’t drive and control to uncomfortable levels.
Music, Music, Music
This album brings back memories for sure, but let’s talk about the actual album and how it sounds.
Starting off with “Acts of Man”, you an immediate sense of what you can expect from the rest of the album. I’m not one to spoil things, but if you don’t like this track you probably won’t like the rest of the album. Midlake is a master of mixing vocals and instrumentation and it shows; this opener displays that for sure. For me though, what really makes this track (and album) stand out isn’t necessarily the vocals or lyrics, but the instrumentation. The flute and bass guitar are slightly off-center to the left/right and make for a blissful listening experience, as if they’re playing to one another.
“Small Mountain” is where the album really starts to come into its own in my opinion. This was one of my most played tracks for a while. The interaction between the vocals and the two off-center guitars was great. Aside from one of the tracks later, it’s probably top 2-3 in my book for vocals.
Skipping ahead a bit gets us to “Fortune”. It’s weird to say that it starts with vocals when it doesn’t… but compared to some of the earlier tracks it does. The thing that stands out for me is that the track is largely driven by the vocals instead of the instrumentation. It’s a nice change of pace for Midlake and one they should (and have) continued.
Now for the best track – in my opinion – on the album. “Rulers, Ruling All Things” very quickly starts a little bit passive but you can tell in the first minute that the tension is building, just waiting for the climax of the track. Upon first listen, it may disappoint… but it’s a track that demands to be turned up as there are lots of tiny details you don’t pick up until your 12th time listening through.
“Children of the Grounds” took me by surprise. What started out as a pretty standard affair for Midlake quickly turned into a very pleasant surprise as far as vocals and instrumentation are concerned. As with a few of the previous tracks, the singing carries a lot of the melody which I quite enjoy from Midlake. Not only that, but there’s a hand-off in that melody between vocals and instruments throughout the track. I could have used a little bit more bass emphasis in parts, but really it’s an enjoyable experience nonetheless.
The Album In Review
What is there to say about the album other than it’s a masterclass in that style of music. As I mentioned earlier, if you aren’t one for this style of music then there isn’t anything in the album that will win you over. But if you enjoy the genre and are open for a band that really knows how to mix and layer different instruments with vocals, then you’re in a real treat.
I will say that the bass was very pleasing overall in the album. It’s easy to appreciate when it’s taut and timely. That is to say that the notes are well spaced and you can hear the space between them. It’s easy to have it sound muddy. So, bravo there.
The mix of instruments was also very aurally appealing with the guitars, flute, piano, and recorder. There may have been some extra instruments…. I may have missed them. But that’s what i heard. Anyways, the flute + guitar combo was excellent and all I wanted was more at the end of the day (or album)
My Beer-everage of Choice
The beverage of choice today is the ever delicious Temptress from Lakewood. But instead of their normal run, today we’re drinking the 10th anniversary edition. What the average goer might not know about the Bourbon Barrel Tempress (or BBT for short) is that it changes year to year as the barrels used for aging change. The BBT X is special in this case as it’s a blend of multiple barrels from across the bourbon belt and the beers have been aged in the barrels for two years.
On to the taste as this is is truly why I picked it. Just like the album with its layers, this beer presents a multi-layered flavor profile that is hard to appreciate in just a single sip. It takes an entire bottle (or two!) to really get a handle on everything.
If there was one word to sum up of the profile, it would be “smooth”. But that doesn’t do it justice as you can taste the influence from different regions of the US in this beer. There’s a hint of sweetness on the front that fades away into toffee, vanilla, and chocolate in the tail end.
A word of warning to those that are uninitiated. This is a beer that definitely hides its 11% ABV. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect far less – perhaps in the 8-9% range. But at the same time, I’m surprised they’re able to squeeze out this kind of flavor out of something that isn’t 12-14%.
Alrighty folks, that’s my review of “The Courage Of Others” by Midlake and its accompanying Bourbon Barrel Aged Temptress by Lakewood.
In somewhat related news, I will have an update on my reference Osiris soon. I’ll be posting that in the next week!