The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy
In places this album hints at a change of track for The Middle East, and certainly there are more experimental sounds and sometimes just the bare bones of songs on I Want That You Are Always Happy, but just beneath the surface is a collection of achingly beautiful tracks. The sound might be simpler than their debut The Recordings of the Middle East, but this album will not disappoint fans of their previously more intricate acoustic sound.
First up and 'Black Death 1349' is a downbeat start but it’s a perfect introduction to Jordan Ireland’s voice, which I have to say is as bewitching a voice as I’ve heard in a long time and it’s this voice that still draws me to listen to 'Blood', perhaps their most well-known track to date, again and again.
The decidedly more chart-friendly 'Jesus Came To My Birthday Party' is a standard in indie pop. I don’t know if the inclusion of songs like 'Jesus...' is a deliberate attempt at creating something more commercial or just a new direction the band wanted to explore? But it works – the song topped the charts in Australia as soon as it was released. However, this is one of those albums that takes a few listens, perhaps because listened to together the tracks appear bitty and disconnected. At 14 songs, it’s quite a long album, which makes me think we could do without the more experimental tracks on the album – 'Mount Morgan' and 'Sydney to Newcastle' – that detract from the wonderful simplicity of the other tracks.
For those who are gagging for more of the pretty ditties that we heard on the first record, and it can’t be denied that this band can come up with the prettiest of ditties, there are plenty to choose from, including 'Land Of The Bloody Unknown', 'Dan’s Silverleaf', 'Months' and the countrified 'Hunger Song' and 'As I Go To See Janey'.
The move away from the more complex, multi-instrumental arrangements of their first album has definitely landed The Middle East with more of a country vibe and they pull it off well. Americana is a common thread – 'Deep Water' with its slide guitar and 'Ninth Avenue Revenue' brings to mind the bluesy Ray LaMontagne – with their lyrics, “You say you can’t stop crying/ it’s just the power of the song/ riding along the midnight grass again”, it’s a potent combination and may well have you crying.
I hope The Middle East will find new fans with this release. After all since their debut in 2008 the folk scene has really exploded worldwide and anyone who is a fan of the likes of Fleet Foxes and their banjo touting and ethereal-voiced contemporaries should certainly feel happy that they’ve discovered The Middle East.