Van Occupied

Kudos to local bands' new singles, but once Midlake's new album comes out, nobody will be safe

When local bands hype new singles, I have trouble holding back laughter. Really, a single? Do unsigned artists expect their songs to get played on 102.1 The Edge, the only modern-rock radio station in Dallas? It's hard enough to crack the indie-minded Adventure Club playlist, let alone regular rotation (unless, in the case of daytime spins, your music caters to the lowest common denominator a la Deaf Pedestrians).

But such pessimism isn't just wasteful--it's incorrect. I'm still adjusting to a musical climate in which singles actually make a difference for independent bands; a world in which MP3 blogs are tastemakers. And man, I like the change.

Best of all, some are run right out of our city-- texasgigs.com, weshotjr.blogspot.com, indieinterviews.com, torr.typepad.com and gorillavsbear.net have a lot to say about local and national bands, offering perspectives--and full-length MP3s--you often won't find on the radio dial.

Here, Tim Smith (second from left) is nabbed by Midlake bandmate Eric Pulido. In a few months, he'll hopefully get nabbed by the global music press--or at least the blogs.
Here, Tim Smith (second from left) is nabbed by Midlake bandmate Eric Pulido. In a few months, he'll hopefully get nabbed by the global music press--or at least the blogs.

So forgive us for playing catch-up, but we want in too. Direct your Web browser to dallasobserver.com/blogs right now--our new venture, Unfair Park, launches this week, covering late-breaking local news, arts and other odds and ends about our city. We thought it made sense to kick off our music portion with gorillavsbear's Chris Cantalini, who pleads with Dallas bands in his first Unfair Park post to turn their promotional powers to the blogosphere.

It's a tip that recent single-releasers Black Tie Dynasty and the Hourly Radio would be wise to learn. Their respective record labels, Idol and Kirtland, are pushing new songs on local radio shows and MySpace (and THR begins a European tour with Stellastarr* this week), but I've yet to hear much reverberation about the tracks, both of which are hyping full-length releases later this year.

Of course, the lack of Internet hype could be as much of a factor as the songs. HR's "Crime Does Pay" and BTD's "Tender" are catchy, '80s-obsessed Brit-rockers, but Coldplay and the Killers have worn this trendy territory down to a nub. Not a knock against the songs, per se--kids will eat the songs up if they hear 'em.

But sometimes there's a difference between "good" and "holy bejesus, this is awesome" that renders the rest of the local musical climate moot. I've talked about the Theater Fire and Baboon doing this recently (Is This On?, February 9), but in 2006, nobody's going to top Midlake.

The quintet is currently sitting on The Trials of Van Occupanther after a year-long recording session, and the band isn't giving out pre-release copies. If you want to hear Van Occupanther, you can either wait until it comes out in July from Bella Union Records...or get an invite to their Denton house. This weekend, I finally got the latter.

Drummer McKenzie Smith led us--me and a few local 20-somethings who met him at Hailey's--into the living room where the album was recorded. He turned on "Roscoe," a catchy, spacey tune that has already spread across the globe via MP3 blogs. On it, the synthesizer style from 2004's Bamnan and Slivercork remains, but a new focus on guitar-driven rock made itself apparent.

I studied the room, filled with recording equipment and decorated in vinyl sleeves of bands like The Band, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John, and when the next track, "Bandits," started, I realized these weren't for mere decoration. Somewhere between Paul McCartney and CSNY, the quiet, acoustic song was a big shocker to everyone in the room who'd grown accustomed to a synthesizer-loving Midlake. The shocks kept coming, from the Fleetwood-friendly "Head Home" to "Ranches," which took its cues from the White Album, but even when Smith told us that the song "Young Bride" would be the "first single," we still weren't prepared.

"Young Bride," ladies and gentlemen, is the song of 2006--local, national, glacial, whatever. It's a dancey surprise tucked into a '70s singer-songwriter album in which a thunderous drumbeat, pulsing bass line and freak-out keyboards wage war against strummed acoustic guitars and violins. The only winner in this war--and the king of Van Occupanther--is the voice of Tim Smith, which has new warmth, power and confidence in commanding these songs. You can trust Midlake's complete change in instrumentation and focus when Smith's voice is so capable.

After the 11-track album was over, everyone in the room gushed. "This is going to be huge!" "You guys are going to be so famous!" I warned everyone to calm down--you can't predict anything in the music business, after all. But all I could think was the same stuff. I hate hyperbole as much as the next guy, but this album could make Midlake one of the biggest indie bands in America (and change the face of home recording forever too). It is that good.

Bella Union and new promotions group World's Fair think the same thing, and they're readying a promotional assault that has only been hinted at by the "Roscoe" leak. When that happens, you can be damn sure the MP3 blogs will have something to say about it. Take that, radio!


Two quick tidbits: Another 10-year-old celebrates this week--the Cavern throws its free anniversary party on Thursday with a ton of bands, including Deathray Davies side project Sparklepussy Barbie. Also, nominations are still open for the Dallas Observer Music Awards--log onto dallasobserver.com to nominate, and hurry, because they close on March 8.

 
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