New Music Reviews: Destroyer, Midlake, and Sault

Three records from established acts this week. Canada’s Dan Bejar is back with another album of sardonic bleating (in the best possible way). Indie-folk band Midlake are much less prolific than London’s Sault; Sault’s classical work Air is their sixth album since 2019, while Midlake released the first of their five albums back in 2004.

Destroyer

Labyrinthitis

2022, 7.5/10
Destroyer have the most misleading name in popular music. What you expect, based on the name, is death metal or perhaps a KISS tribute band. What you get is a man sardonically purring and bleating his twisted insights over smooth yacht rock.

Like many music fans, I first encountered Dan Bejar as a member of The New Pornographers. He’d contribute three twisted songs on each record to contrast with the classicist power-pop of A.C. Newman. Bejar hasn’t performed with The New Pornographers since 2014, and his solo albums have received more attention than his parent band over the last decade. In particular, 2011’s Kaputt often turns up on best-of-decade lists.

Bejar’s prolific – Labyrinthitis is his 14th album, and only tails 2020’s Have We Met by a couple of years. New Pornographers’ bassist John Collins is back in the producers chair. It’s Destroyer’s most danceable record to date. Collins and Bejar originally aimed for a techno album, but it often resembles New Order on the dance-oriented tracks like ‘Suffer’ and ‘Eat the Wine, Drink the Bread’

I’ve found the more straightforward songs like ‘All My Pretty Dresses’ haven’t worn well on repeat listens. The standout track is ‘June’, where Bejar devotes the second half of the track to a monologue, his voice altered to sound like a hipster Barry White.

Bejar is reliably interesting – Labyrithitis isn’t his best, but it’s plenty worthwhile anyhow.


Midlake

For The Sake of Bethel Woods

2022, 8/10
Texan folk-rock band Midlake were formed by a bunch of jazz students at the University of North Texas College of Music. Their original name was “Cornbread All Stars”, and their influences include Radiohead and Jethro Tull – a midpoint between Radiohead and Jethro Tull is a good way to describe their sound.

They’ve soldiered on since the departure of lead singer Tim Smith, who left before the recording of 2013’s Antiphon. It’s taken them nearly a decade to follow Antiphon; their fifth album For the Sake of Bethel Woods is named for the site of the Woodstock Music Festival. The father of keyboard and flute player Jesse Chandler attended Woodstock in 1969 – after he passed away, Chandler dreamed that his father suggested Midlake reform for another album. The cover art of Bethel Woods features Dave Chandler at Woodstock.

Midlake tried to emphasise their progressive rock tendencies on Bethel Woods. At its best, it’s absolutely gorgeous. A beautiful piano figure underscores ‘Bethel Woods’. ‘Feast of Carrion’ features lovely harmonies, flute, piano, and pretentious lyrics like “sought out to seize the Spring/Of seasons coming”. ‘The End’ is more theatrical than usual for Midlake, not far from Queen or Jellyfish. There’s more of an electronic pulse than usual on ‘Dawning’.

Midlake play effortlessly gorgeous music, and Bethel Woods is an excellent addition to their catalogue.


Sault

Air

2022, 8/10
Every time I review a new Sault album, I point out how unorthodox their approach is. Their veiled identities, their lack of live performances, and their prolific release schedule are all noteworthy. All these idiosyncrasies, however, pale in comparison to their most recent album Air. Instead of their usual arty neo-soul, their sixth album is a classical work, complete with choir and orchestra.

In particular, ‘Solar’ is an ambitious 12-minute piece, with dramatic orchestration – my classical knowledge is scant, but it feels like a fully-fledged work rather than dabbling. Elsewhere, Air is sometimes closer to typical Sault fare – after opening with a grand orchestral fanfare, the second half of ‘Time Is Precious’ is much closer to Sault’s typical neo-soul. ‘Luos High’ is named for the Luo people of Kenya and features African instrumentation. Despite the unfamiliar musical territory, Inflo’s skill as a producer still shines through.

Air is challenging, but it’s a surprisingly successful foray into foreign musical territory.

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5 Comments

  1. The Midlake song is cool…parts reminded me a little of Pink Floyd but more down to earth.

  2. My favorite here is Midlake. I featured them and “Bethel Woods” from that album in March.

    I think your characterization of Sault’s album as “challenging” is appropriate. Unlike Midlake this is a type of music you definitely need to spend some time with to do it justice.

    • Yup, I remember that.

      Sault’s other stuff is way different – they’re more groove based usually. Pretty surprised to see them go full classical.

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