Midlake - Milkmaid Grand Army EP
In 2001, four whole years after its initial release, OK Computer was still inspiring young musicians to pull their own masterpiece out of the hat. Midlake didn't quite do it with that year's Milkmaid Grand Army EP, that feat not occurring until 2006 saw their second full-length album The Trials of Van Occupanther top many end-of-year lists. However, this initial testing of the waters, despite wearing its Radiohead influence on its sleeve like a spangly knock-off Delboy watch, is definitely worth a spin, whether you're already a fan of Midlake or not.
Opener She Removes Her Spiral Hair, with its distorted guitar and intentionally oblique lyrics, sets the tone and establishes Tim Smith's copycat Thom Yorke vocals. That may sound like a dig but, if you ask me, anyone who can sound like Thom Yorke is a talent to treasure. Paper Gown features the nostalgic lyrics of Van Occupanther ('When the day comes/The dreadful scene approaching/Don't leave with your hands covering your face') but set to circling piano chords and acoustic strums rather than a pastoral rock soundscape. On Excited But Not Enough, Smith paints himself as a Yorke-like loner figure alienated from the modern world and then, along with a looped synth riff and sequenced hand-clap beats, drives the winningly kooky Roller Skate with his falsetto vocal. I Lost My Bodyweight in the Forest may be a bitty, albeit atmospheric, piano interlude but the instrument is employed to greater effect on two lo-fi ballads, Simple and Golden Hour, that remain faithful to the Radioehad template but also suggest the first steps in the path to their own emotive sound.
Not highly original then but, already a cult success, this EP is an intriguing glimpse into the first baby steps of what is now a critically recognised band. The Radiohead influence is inescapable but I'm sure even Yorke would agree Midlake are perhaps the best band his own lot have inspired.