“I Want That You Are Always Happy” – ‘The Middle East’ [Joint Review]
“I Want That You Are Always Happy” is disproportionally weaker than “The Recordings of The Middle East”, returning three years later after their unofficial debut, follow-up EP of the same name, and 2010’s promotional, forerunner EP. And feeling like a B-side compilation, “… Happy” retains The Middle East’s unique, melancholic atmosphere, sacrificing its folk-ambient fusion for an occasionally bland, acoustic environment. Sophomore albums are frequently overshadowed by their freshman counterparts, and “… Happy” appears to be no exception.
Hailing from Townsville, Queensland, The Middle East are one of Australia’s tightest indie bands at the moment; airplay, tours, the works. Six years young, and comprised of Jordan Ireland, Joseph Ireland, Bree Tranter, Rohin Jones, Mark Myers, Jack Saltmiras and Mike Haydon, Highly Evolved’s other-half has been following them since its inception, and we’ve had the pleasure of seeing them live. I would redirect newcomers cautiously to their debut – an unequivocal success – before any hasty, offhand assumptions are garnered from “… Happy”: a contrarily folkier, blue-grass composition.
Where “Pig Food” ends and “… Happy” begins is fairly disappointing; antithetic-ballads swallowing up leftover, shamanistic temperaments with bluesy arrangements and an overexercised mandolin. All the shoegaze is practically dead. East’s subsidiary band Dragging Pianos feels more prominently manifest, while Darkest Side’s catchy, explosive tendencies seem dulled or altogether absent. This yields a rather dominating, countryesque vibe: subdued in “Recordings…” yet seemingly unleashed in “… Happy”. Songs bleed together into obscurity – pinnacles being few and far between. This can leave one feeling lost or quickly side-tracked with disinterest – there’s hardly enough upbeat, sometimes.
Lyrically, “… Happy” is anything but. Christian overtones seem clunkier: “Jesus Came To My Birthday Part” for instance – title of the aforementioned, pre-release EP. East’s tasteful, dystopian lynchpin seems ineffectively reprised, like a bastardised “Recordings…” Tracks like “As I Go To See Janey”, “Land Of The Bloody Unknown”, “Hunger Song” and “Ninth Avenue Reverie” are its strongest, lyrical features, while “My Grandmother Was Pearl Hall”, “Mount Morgan”, “Months”, “Dan’s Silverleaf” and “Mount Morgan End” are its more musically-successful melodies. All in all, East’s lyrics are up to standard. But with that said, nothing blows me away; not like all of “Recordings…” Instead, here I find myself skipping through a majority of songs in an effort to get to some substantiality; it is a grower, though, I must admit. I am a fan of “Pig Food”, “The Fall of Man”, “Tsietsi” – if you haven’t already guessed…
“Black Death 1349” is an overtly bleak introduction; there is nothing subtle about it. Vocals howl across a simple acoustical accompaniment of dreary, resonant guitars, building into a bloated finale full of airy-synth; seamlessly cascading into “My Grandmother Was Pearl Hall”. Syllabic-piano mimes in synchronicity with its lyrics, residual impacts lathering atop one another into a filmy, diffuse haze. Vibrato-violin creaks like a rusty-hinged door, whistles whittling out holes between brief silences. This neat little couplet dies away in place of “As I Go To See Janey”, a folkier, mandolin-favouring piece not unlike Dragging Piano’s “Food Chain”. We fall into “Jesus Came To My Birthday Party” unexpectedly, and I sort of lose interest: a poppy, energetic outburst predominantly electric, uncannily psychedelic in some fuzz-guitar instances, but otherwise plain.
By the time we hit “Mount Morgan” – a painstakingly slow descent into the middle of what feels like nowhere – we’re only thirty-minutes down. Crickets chirp mockingly between ethereal, twanging guitars. All of it stretched across imaginary footsteps under a baking, desert sun, building with the approach of a noise-filled storm. If “The Darkest Side” were ever to be replaced, “Hunger Song” could easily double in its absence; catchy, upbeat, but still not as good.
We sort of trickle into “Ninth Avenue Reverie” – more narrative, than song – with a beautiful vignette of stagnant and surreal characters eking out their existence:
You said that your daddy was a painter of sorts
But I never saw him paint a thing
He just kept the tins underneath his bed
And sniffed a different colour every night
And dreamed of a place up in the sky
Where everyone’s a painter till they die
Easily my favourite; folky, Dylanesque tones peek through – even with a harmonica. Tagged to the beginning of “Deep Water”, a ten-minute trudge of the same demeanour, but not nearly as effective. “Mount Morgan End” signals “I Want That You Are Always Happy’s” conclusion, after an hour of introspective soul-searching. A somewhat redeeming instrumental, clamouring for attention better suited as an introduction. The saxophone is ridiculously intoxicating – and I simply must have more, but…
Reviewer’s Pick: “Ninth Avenue Reverie”
Stand-out Tracks: “My Grandmother Was Pearl Hall”, “Land Of The Bloody Unknown”, “Hunger Song”, “Ninth Avenue Reverie”, “Mount Morgan End”
The Enantiomorphic God