Sunday, November 1, 2009

Basking in the sun of The Middle East.

I’m not quite sure why Townsville-based band, The Middle East is called The Middle East, but their debut EP, The Recordings of the Middle East, would be worth listening to no matter what it was called.

I’ve found it hard to get much information about this band – it seems it has about six or seven members, playing a range of instruments that enable it to produce a seemingly endless range of sounds, all with chamber music intimacy, tinged with the colours of indie rock, folk, country and ambience. There’s acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, percussion, flute, trumpet, accordion, harmonica, keyboards, banjo, mandolin, glockenspiel and, of course, vocals – beautiful, softly harmonised vocals that give every song a quiet, placid poignancy.

The Recordings of the Middle East opens with ‘Darkest Side”, a rather enigmatic song, that seems to recall generations of the love and hardship of domestic life and death, in a quiet rippling melody.

Its images are, like many of the images on this album, sometimes a little hard to decipher – but, in a sense, that’s what gives them their magic: little snippets of pictures that, thanks to the intimacy of the music, seem to resonate and connect with you. These are not songs that tell you stories so much as present you with morsels of lives, hearts and hopes.

‘Lonely’ is filled with sadness, with weeping phrases from electronic keyboards and guitar – but it’s not a sadness so muc about loneliness itself as about the ways in which we allow our lives to become lonely, by caring about the things that don’t matter instead of the things that do.

All of these songs kind of wander between vocals and instrumentals, both working together, conversing with one another, carrying your heart away on the wings of gorgeous, close harmonies one minute, and massaging it with magic speckles of light the next. Listen, for example, to the breathtakingly beautiful postlude to ‘Blood’, where a choir of voices seems to dance on the clouds, while tingling percussion and guitars sparkle on the sea below.

‘Fool’s Gold’ is almost whispered to you, with its images of love and change, like a song that Bon Iver would have liked to have written.

‘Beleriand’ is full of darker, softly haunting tones, at times sounding like it’s coming to you from another world, frightening and menacing, until it thins out, and fades away, and leaves you with a feeling of comfort and rest after all.

The Recordings of the Middle East is only five songs – and is, I gather, a shorter version of an earlier release – but it’s more than enough to show you just how superb and talented The Middle East are, creating that very special sort of music that moves you, not because it grabs you and shakes you, but because it tiptoes on you, and makes you feel special and privileged to have been able to hear its whisper.

A beautiful recording from a band that certainly needs to be heard a whole lot more.

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