The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy

The one thing to take away from their debut is that they don’t have quite enough self-control.

A lot can be said about the “personality” of an album – what the mood is, how it changes through its running time, what effect it has on the listener. Much has also been made of how the shuffle culture of modern music listening has had a detrimental effect on how albums are listened to, and even how they’ll be constructed by artists in light of this. It appears that The Middle East have become victims of this particular phenomenon, as ‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder.

To begin with, the band craft an immaculate combination of misery-flecked folk and the kinds of atmospheric flourishes beloved of more melodic post-rock types - all seems well. Opener ‘Black Death 1349’ grows out of a single, hovering vocal melody until it fills your speakers with echoes deserving of the most cavernous of spaces whilst ‘As I Go To See Janey’ is a woozy folk number that goes beyond its station and transforms into a half-speed anthem. The first signs of odd changes to this formula come with ‘Jesus Came To My Birthday Party’, a song that could be described as twee-grunge – the melody and stomp of Nirvana twinned with a forthright, fresh-faced approach – but even this has enough fuzz and rough-around-the-edges appeal to stay within what the band appear to be attempting to convey with the album. ‘Mount Morgan’ stands at the centre of proceedings, a distillation of what could be said to be the album’s personality up until this point. This hulking, five-minute exercise in how to turn sunburnt trad-folk into a post-rock Wild West noise assault is perfectly executed – unexpected and utterly enthralling.

And yet, after the album has been defined by its best track, everything changes. ‘Months’ clean production, upbeat finger-picked guitar and flute accompaniment sounds divorced from what’s come before, an homage to ‘Illinois’-era Sufjan Stevens that appears completely off-kilter. The album continues in this vein, with the rollicking folk ‘n’ roll of ‘Hunger Song’ and gentle MOR lament of ‘Deep Water’ refusing to buck this new trend. Even the final instrumental reprise ‘Mount Morgan End’ adds an unnecessary warbling saxophone to the mix. Something seems amiss – everything from the style through to the production of the album seems to switch abruptly halfway through; and both halves suffer for it.

‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ attempts either to be two things at once, or one thing that appears too flimsily constructed to sustain itself, and it’s this cumbersome personality that lets it down. As two albums (or even a double album) it would be clear that The Middle East have burgeoning, expansive talent – as it is, the one thing to take away from their debut is that they don’t have quite enough self-control.

Tags: The Middle East, Reviews, Album Reviews

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