For The Sake of Bethel Woods by Midlake album review by Greg Walker for Northern Transmissions

ATO Records

7.5

Midlake

For The Sake of Bethel Woods

Even as Russian bombs unbelievably barrage the cities of Ukraine, Midlake is singing songs about Bethel Woods, where anti-war Woodstock took place 50 plus years ago. To say that this album came out a good time is an understatement. Their latest album, For The Sake Of Bethel Woods, is their first in ten years and their second album without original and genre-defining singer, Tim Smith. It is a step in a funkier and an even more earnest direction than their first album with Eric Pulido taking over vocals on Antiphon.

The first song, “Commune,” starts off the record with a statement of intent: “Break bread with them all / make time to recall / the ones who came before.” The rest of the record deals in a beautiful manner with the war zone of life that we are all in and the fight for belief. “I could give it all / for the sake of Bethel Woods / To a time and a place / where peacefulness once stood.” Combining folk, psych rock, and jazz the album is one stunner after another, with Pulido’s heart on full display.

With imagery like “in the belly of the beast” and “feast of carrion,” Pulido attempts to give voice to our woes. But there is a confidence and an ease in both his lyrics and the band’s arrangements. This would be a transformative live show, I believe, with its infectious rhythms, its progressive arrangements, and its full on choir-like vocals at times. It recalls in some ways, Sufjan Stevens’ penchant for taking on Biblical themes with modern sensibilities, while allowing a great deal of personal interpretation in the lyrics. In fact, “Noble,” seems like a song plucked directly from Sufjan’s repertoire.

Though it shares some elements of Sufjan’s baroque folk-pop, it is much more psychedelic overall. The band is seamless and Pulido is a fitting front man. Like Antiphon, it is almost like a new band, since Smith’s departure. A deep dive into Midlake’s discography is certainly satisfying and gives you an appreciation for their genesis and evolution. This album plays like a concept album, that plays from the recent past to the imminent ending of time.

“Morning / And dawn is on the rise / a feeling of malaise / continues to deprive // All he ever wanted / was a purpose to be known / waiting for epiphany / this world may never know,” Pulido sings on one of the last songs on the record, “Dawning.” This album, it seems, is the band’s attempts to cut through the malaise and provide an epiphany, and the central lyric of the album ends the song: “This cannot allow for us / To live without a love / for one another.” The record is a noble undertaking and hopefully something that will draw us back to the time of shared purpose and mutual concern.

Order For The Sake of Bethel Woods by Midlake HERE