Label: Bella Union Released: 1st February 2010 Buy:Rough Trade Website: Buy: Amazon Whilst there are quite a few bands who have made the 'summer vibe' their own, far fewer really plump for the pissing rain and howling gales of winter do they? Especially not many bands hailing from Texas... In 'Courage of Others', Midlake have done just that, producing a record that's dark and gloomy, yet warm and cosy at the same time. Listening to this record is a bit like experiencing a nasty storm in the dark of night from the comfort of your favourite sofa with a nice cup of tea... Following up on their much loved breakthrough record 'The Trials of Van Occupanther' was always going to be a tough task and it's credit to Midlake for not resting on their laurels and churning out '...Occupanther Mark 2'. In fact, word has it that they actually scrapped all of the early sessions of this record to start afresh and subsequently quit touring in order to get together something that they were happy with. The upshot is a real change in direction for the band. 'Courage...' is almost prog-folk. It's something very different and so much bigger sounding than much of the modern day alt-folk fare that's widely available at the moment. Whereas the current trend has been to minimalise, to strip things back and under-produce everything folky (see Bon Iver et al), this record sits on the other side of the fence, nay, the other side of the field... The 60s or 70s folk vibe on show here is an area where the band really excels. Whilst many of the songs here might initially sound relatively simple at first, on reflection they are laden with layers that, in places, verge on orchestral. Virtually every track has something unexpected that jumps out and grabs you. From the off, in the excellent 'Acts Of Man', you're hit with a flute solo from nowhere (yes, a flute solo). 'Fortune' is incredibly pretty and a bit like listening to Simon and Garfunkel on downers. A couple of slow-building acoustic tracks follow and things are turned up with the electric intro to 'The Horn' that lends more than a tip of the hat to Radiohead. The title track is as tender a tune you'll hear and as the record draws to a close there is still the chance for one last surprise. This comes in the form of some renaissance chamber music in the intro for 'In The Ground'. Despite having all these things happening in the space of 45 minutes this album has a very cohesive feel and somehow still works. Throughout 'Courage...' there's more than a smattering of darkness and the omnipresent minor chord use turns the brooding tone into outright sadness at times but the tender vocal performance somehow stops it going too far down that road. With the release scheduled just in time for Punxsutawney Phil to come out and check for his shadow. It would seem by the dark and brooding sound of 'Courage of Others', Denton, Texas' Midlake are putting their money on another six weeks of winter. Pop on the record, cosy up on the sofa and let the winter do its worst. 8/10 Listen to: Acts Of Man Pigeonhole: Somewhere between Fairport Convention and Radiohead Twitter review: Coinciding with Punxsutawney Phil hunting his shadow. The dark Courage of Others suggests Midlake's money is on another six weeks of winter.