The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy
Record Label: Spunk
Release Date: April 8th, 2011
It’s a difficult process to even begin describing the Australian indie-folk sextet known as The Middle East. The band’s delicate and wistful unofficial debut, The Recordings of Middle East resonated with many of those fortunate enough to have stumbled across it. In their own subtle and quietly sung manner, the band gained somewhat of a cult following for their warm and equally enthralling tunes that resulted in the band being showcased to a wider audience while sharing the stage with such bands as Doves and The National. Three years have subsequently elapsed and with it comes the release of I Want That You Are Always Happy. The album features a dramatic shift in sound with darker, moodier textures and a far more ambitious element coursing throughout the album’s thirteen track duration.
It’s intriguing and interesting to note that each and every individual song has its own story, yet these tracks only mildly blend together to create a full-length that doesn’t necessary flow cohesively, but merely merges one track with the next much like chapters within a novel. Likewise, the majority of slower numbers are strategically placed at the beginning of the record allowing the album to slowly take shape and create its own unique identity as the songs gain momentum and urgency towards the latter portions of the record.
Album opener “Black Death 1349” is an exquisite piece of music that goes a long to setting the tone for things to come. A dark, vulnerable and grandiose piano tone intertwines and combines with an eerie ambiance to superb effect. An early highlight is the acoustically driven “As I Go To See Janey” for its luscious and succulent sounding vocal melodies from lead vocalist Jordan Ireland. Although the lyrical content that’s displayed within the track is fabricated and fictional, it certainly doesn’t stop it from being a captivating listen. A lovely harmonica and gentle acoustic guitar strumming closes the track to its inaudible finish before the jubilant and energetic first single “Jesus Came To My Birthday Party” provides a welcome variant between the darker and gentler opening three tracks that I Want That You Are Always Happy contains. The gorgeous vocals of Bree Tranter suit the nostalgic and playful mood of the song tremendously as distorted guitars flirt enticingly with the prospect of launching into a restrained solo towards the end. “My Grandmother Was A Pearl Hall” is also a sparse acoustic lament that opens with creaky and chilling piano chords, dusty dampened keys and an ambient charm.
The first of several relatively minor setbacks is showcased with the unmemorable “Mount Morgan” and “Dan’s Silverleaf” which both merely float along without any conviction or urgency resulting in certain moments during the record where it appears to succumb to an introverted lull. It becomes noticeable before long that while The Middle East have attempted to attach a mood, a tone, and a motif to this release - it becomes wearying, tiresome and weighed down when each acoustic oriented track feels like it has the same haunting atmosphere that's plagued with identical yawning and at times indecipherable vocals. On the subject of criticisms, the album length is one of the most noticeable. When a number of these thirteen songs fail to differ in terms of overall tone and pace, it becomes a slight endurance to sit through upwards of sixty minutes of predictable indie/folk music.
Thankfully the album ends on a sensationally positive note with both “Hunger Song” and “Deep Water” being the standouts. The former blends intricate folk psychedelics and multi-layered acoustic guitars together beneath quiveringly whispered vocals. The cascading harmonies break away from the pulsating drums and rich strings to form an engaging folk tune. “Deep Water” closes I Want That You Are Always Happy in truly breathtaking fashion. It’s a ten minute fluctuating masterpiece. “It’s deep water, driving rain/ and all I can remember is cold”.
I Want That You Are Always Happy clocks in at slightly over an hour, and at times it can feel haphazard. However, it’s like a recently rediscovered box of old family photographs and portraits, there’s so much to unpack that it's impossible not to feel affectionate towards it. Of course, it could have potentially been trimmed down and rearranged slightly more efficiently, but for an official debut full-length, it’s a wonderful achievement and a more than worthy listen.