“No, we never thought about quitting,” says Midlake’s founding guitarist and new frontman. “We had a record to finish.”
In 2012, after spending two years creating a record’s worth of new material, Midlake’s leader, Tim Smith, left the band. Midlake had been together for over a decade at that point, meeting as jazz students at the University of North Texas before turning out three imaginative folk-rock records from their Denton, Texas, home studio. But with the fourth record nearly finished, Smith removed himself, forcing Pulido to take the reins.
“Other bands have lost major members and held it together,” Pulido says. “We scrapped the stuff we originally made with Tim more to prove that we could—to make a statement.”
While Antiphon is less the born-again record one might imagine it to be, it exudes pent-up energy. The opening two tracks, a gutsy one-two punch of aggressive experimental rock, seem to declare there’s a little more freedom in that North Texas studio these days.
Midlake first shook the indie realm in 2006 with the release of The Trials of Van Occupanther, an enchanting record marrying fantasy to folk under the guise of soft rock—the sound of early Fleetwood Mac made mossy and magical through woodwinds and Smith’s feathery vocals. Bands like Fleet Floxes, Woods and Horse Feathers owe a great deal to Midlake’s defining release.
In the absence of its original singer-songwriter, Midlake has more than managed. It took just six months for Pulido and company to complete Antiphon. The combination of crisp, cleanly produced sound and free-form experimentation on the record can be partly attributed to the mixing of Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air), but it’s more the work of extensive jamming in a convenient studio that everyone in the band feels at home in, as well as the “more communal approach” to songwriting, as Pulido puts it.
Despite the changes, Midlake is still very much Midlake. The sextet still has a Jethro Tull-like affinity for the flute. Dreamy folk riffs and dramatic ebbs and flows are still very much the norm. But now there’s an edge and fearlessness about the band. If Midlake were a teenager, Antiphon would represent the first time the parents went out of town: an opportunity to be a little reckless.
“I first heard the word in a liturgical setting,” Pulido says of the album’s title, a reference to a Gregorian type of call-and-response singing. “But ‘antiphon’ literally translates in Greek to ‘opposite voice,’ and that’s essentially what this record is.” Tracks like “Vale” and “The Old and the Young,” with its sawing guitar work, depict a tougher, more assertive group. It might not be the equivalent of Dylan going electric, but Antiphon is still a proud declaration of maturity.
When asked if the band is planning to do anything with the material scrapped after Smith left, Pulido chuckles. “Yeah, maybe we’ll release it as part of a Midlake 20th-anniversary collection,” he says. Pulido pauses, perhaps realizing the great form the band is in right now, even without its co-founder. “But no, it’ll probably just stay in a vault somewhere.”
SEE IT: Midlake plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with Sarah Jaffe, on Friday, Dec. 13. 8 pm. $13 advance, $15 day of show. 21+.