Even after the briefest of time spent listening to debut UK release by The Middle East, I am quite smitten. The EP "The Recordings of the Middle East" (on Chess Club Records) is a shortened version of their 2008 debut album that the band felt needed ‘focusing’ and was abridged and re-released in 2009. Unlikely as it sounds when you realise the band is a (upto) seven-piece collective from Townsville, Australia, the main musical reference point when listening to opening song ‘The Darkest Side’ is Bon Iver. Quiet plucked guitars, hushed introspection, frail interweaving male/female voices. Townsville is clearly closer to Wisconsin than sunny Bondi Beach.
Most other songs on the EP are similar in tone, long songs (the first three are all five and a half minutes plus) delivered with quiet restraint but some go elsewhere. Both ‘Lonely’ and ‘Blood’ build to semi-orchestral finales that reminds me of Woodpigeon or even Efterklang. ‘Blood’ is one of the prettiest songs I’ve heard this year – again those fragile voices plus tinkling glockenspiel in the first half build to a sumptuous choir and trumpet crescendo.
Whereas Justin Vernon trades on heart-break, The Middle East are looking at even bleaker themes – death and even suicide seem to crop up in each song. Alongside the gentle folk and orch-pop trimmings, there are touches of post-rock and ambience but the noir-rock of the fifth song 'Beleriand' goes in another direction again. Makes me wonder what they took out of the LP?
All this promises great things for tonight’s (debut?) Manchester show at The Deaf Institute. This is part of the briefest of UK tours for the band – other stops are Brighton and London plus Glastonbury and Latitude. Given the distances involved for The Middle East to travel this could be you last time to catch them live for some time.
Advance tickets are only £7.50 or pay more on the door. Support from Delta Maid.
The Middle East
Recordings of the Middle East [BUY or BUY]