Midlake

Late Show

Midlake

Nicole Atkins

Wed, November 6, 2013

Doors: 9:30 pm

Mercury Lounge

New York, NY

$15 advance / $18 day of show

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This event is 21 and over

Midlake - (Set time: 10:30 PM)
Midlake
An antiphon is a call-and-response style of singing, from Gregorian chants to sea shanties. In the case of Denton, Texas' favourite sons Midlake, it's the perfect title for a bold response to a new phase in the band's illustrious career, with a re-jigged line-up and a newly honed sound as rich and symphonic as it is dynamic and kaleidoscopic.
Anyone who knows Midlake's preceding albums will recognise some constituent parts of Antiphon: the quirky psychedelia of 2004 debut Bamnan and Slivercork, the '70s soft-rock strains of breakthrough album The Trials Of Van Occupanther and the Brit-folk infusion of 2010's The Courage Of Others. But their fourth album is another fascinating departure, but also a logical progression. The sound is simultaneously familiar and changed.
"It's always through the scope of Midlake," says vocalist/guitarist Eric Pulido, "but on Antiphon we wanted to embrace the psychedelia, style and nuance you might hear in bands from yesteryear while also being aware of music influences leading up to and present now. The result was less folk and more rock. Less nostalgic and more progressive. Now the sky's the limit."
This growth is down to the ambition and ability of Pulido (vocals, guitars, keyboards) Paul Alexander (bass, keyboards, bassoon, guitars, backing vocals), McKenzie Smith (drums, percussion) and Eric Nichelson (guitars, autoharp), plus Jesse Chandler (keyboards, piano, flute, backing vocals) and Joey McClellan (guitars, backing vocals) from Midlake's last live incarnation. But it's also down to the absence of Midlake's former singer Tim Smith, who left the band in November 2012.
As Pulido explains, Midlake had finished touring in support of The Courage Of Others in November 2010. "We immediately returned to the studio, as we always did. With hindsight, that wasn't a good thing to do." The Courage Of Others had taken the best part of two years to make, and they found themselves struggling to achieve their aim. Midlake tried recording at the farm in Buffalo, Texas where they'd had success with The Courage Of Others, "but we knew something was missing," Pulido recalls. The band took a break to play a few concerts, "to try out new songs and keep ourselves out there. One show was Bella Union's 15th anniversary at the End of the Road Festival, which we didn't realise would be our last with Tim."
After some time back in Denton, Smith announced his departure. In the fall-out over the spoils of what had been recorded, the remaining members decided to start afresh, and wrote and recorded Antiphon in six harmonious months – bar 'Vale', which had been demoed without Smith during one of the sessions.
With its ravishing, rippling textures symptomatic of Antiphon's scale, 'Vale' showed how far they'd already come. The remaining nine tracks – the album is free-flowing in feel, concise in structure – confirm it's very much Midlake, but uncannily rebooted, and relaxed.
The band had already validated their sublime instrumental mettle by backing John Grant on his award-winning 2010 solo debut Queen Of Denmark; now they had to step into new roles, collaborate on songwriting and have Pulido take over as frontman. He admits it wasn't the easiest transition for any of the band but the experience was enormously freeing: "Antiphon is the most honest representation of the band as a whole, as opposed to one person's vision that we were trying to facilitate."
For example, 'The Old And The Young', a lighter, swinging version of the 'new' Midlake, has elements of "bouyancy" that Pulido says were long suppressed. "The chorus is catchy and has a lift, like we were releasing the dove! I love many genres of music - from Abba to Zappa, and I wanted to write in a way that wasn't putting parameters around what it is we were creating. It was a more honest representation of who we really are."
"The past is what got you to where you are now, so you shouldn't be a malcontent about it," acknowledges Pulido. That's the gist of 'The Old And The Young', one of the lyrics on Antiphon that refers to embracing what is rather than lamenting what was. 'Provider Reprise' is "a farewell, like the sound you might hear when you enter the gates of heaven!" The gentler 'Aurora Gone' concerns divorce while 'This Weight' concerns the selfishness of man, "turning away from this existence, to do your own thing," says Pulido. "It could be just as much about me as it is about anyone."
After the costumed antics of the band's last two album covers, the colour-saturated globe on Antiphon takes a different tack, and a broader picture outside of Midlake's internal dynamic. "It conjures imagery of a celebratory fireworks display," Pulido suggests "but it's actually a diagram of an exclusive group of connected entities with disproportionate amounts of control over the global economy. It's a beautiful way to show a darker side of things in the world."
Antiphon has a similarly paradoxical nature – from stress and upset, something positive and creative has emerged. Midlake is dead, long live Midlake.
Nicole Atkins - (Set time: 9:30 PM)
Nicole Atkins
A neon noir tour de force of hi-def late-night pop, Slow Phaser marks Nicole Atkins’ most ingenious and indelibly modern collection to date. Produced by Tore Johannson - with whom she partnered on her now-classic 2007 debut, Neptune City - the album is a milestone for the acclaimed singer/songwriter, her restless creativity fully realized via the addition of some surprising colors to her already diverse paintbox. Songs like the poptastic “Girl You Look Amazing” and the sultry “Red Ropes” positively swirl with day-glo danceability, the bright hues setting Atkins’ distinctive creative voice in a brilliant and undeniable new light. Bittersweet yet life affirming, Slow Phaser is Nicole Atkins at her confident and unpredictable best – spirited, sexy, and determinedly forward thinking.

“I wanted to make something that no one’s ever heard before,” she says, “including myself.”

A charismatic and committed live performer, Atkins followed 2011’s adventurous Mondo Amore with a long year on the road. Upon her return, the New Jersey-based artist began to rethink her overall approach. Atkins went on creative walkabout, visiting various musician friends across the country and starting a productive collaboration with veteran drummer/producer Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Cramps, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks). The two clicked immediately, penning three songs on the very first day they set to work.

“Jim really helped me articulate a lot of what I was feeling,” she says. “He helped me make the things I was writing sound more like when I just wrote songs for myself. He taught me a lot about writing… again.”

Luckily – or perhaps not – she was in Memphis when Hurricane Sandy wreaked its havoc on the Jersey Shore and her familial home.

“It was awful,” she says. “The whole first floor was flooded, we didn’t have power for 18 days. Everything is pretty much back now, but its different. Everybody in the town aged a lot this year.”

As she pondered her next move, fate rang long distance. Hearing of her recent travails, her old producer Tore Johansson – known for his work with Franz Ferdinand, The Cardigans, and many others – invited Atkins to come record at his residential Malmö, Sweden studio.

“He said, ‘As soon as you can get here, get here,’” she says. “It was the perfect double whammy. Here was someone who was going to help me make my record and give me a place to live.”

Atkins packed up two years of songs, poetry, and journals, not to mention the hundreds of beat-based musical ideas stored on her iPhone. With Johansson’s able assistance, she devised a compelling new sonic approach, melding psychedelic energy, prog rock adventurism, after hours disco ambience, and the raw emotional purity of the finest country soul. Atkins stripped her traditional instrumentation to its core – Johansson handled bass duties, joined by The Cardigans’ Lars-Olaf Johansson on guitar, keyboardist Martin Gjerstad, and Asbury Park’s own Sam Bey behind the drum kit – placing considerably more emphasis on electronics than on her previous recordings.

“It sounds large but not cluttered,” she says. “We only used four instruments and tracked everything live. Instead of layering on a bunch of strings and horns and bells, the idea was to try to make everything have such complex melodies that they fit together like a puzzle. Every little bit counts.”

The result is remarkably vivid and varied, with songs like the opening “Who Killed The Moonlight?” blazing with transcendent pop hooks and floor-filling rhythms unlike anything Atkins has done before. She further pushed her songwriting by penning a series of wry, candid songs casting a mordant eye at pretentious boyfriends (“It’s Only Chemistry”), ponderous hipsters (“Cool People”), and the endless highway that is her perpetual home (“Gasoline Bride”). Slow Phaser comes to its poignant emotional close with “The Worst Hangover” – replete with images of shattered disco balls glittering on the storm swept Jersey shoreline – and the sparse, powerful “Above As Below,” which finds our heroine alone at sea, “surrendering to the void, just me, seagulls, and the gods.” A committed believer in the enduring power of the album-as-art form, Atkins embraced a classically tripartite sequencing inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s notorious psychotropic western, El Topo.

“When it starts out, the protagonist is really cocky and sure of himself and makes terrible decisions without thinking about the repercussions,” she says. “In the second part, he has everything taken away and is really put in his place. Then, in the end, he accepts it and tries to find spiritual meaning in order to be a better person.”

Atkins plans to release Slow Phaser on her own Oh’Mercy! Records, an assertion of ownership that embraces her ever fervent fanbase, who are helping fund the project through a successful PledgeMusic campaign. In addition, the always ambitious artist plans to indulge her defiantly prog dreams with the most theatrical live performances of her career thus far.

“I’m going to wear a cape and shoot lasers out of my hands,” she says. “Really.”

Inventive and irresistible, Slow Phaser positively radiates with idiosyncrasy and a palpable sense of fully empowered musical discovery.

“It’s taken me a while to figure out who I really am,” Nicole Atkins says. “Musically, and as a person. It’s constantly changing. I’m not just this one character. I’m an artistic person trying to figure shit out.”

September 2013
Venue Information:
Mercury Lounge
217 E Houston St.
New York, NY, 10002
http://mercuryloungenyc.com