I Want That You Are Always Happy by The Middle East
Despite having already put one record out, it’s fair to say that The Middle East’s sophomore album is far more like a début than The Recordings of the Middle East, their first release.
Whereas that initial foray was more a collection of songs, essentially a lengthy EP, I Want That You Are Always Happy is a cohesive, united work which not only sounds a lot more complete, but also marks a new beginning for a group who have already split up and reformed once. If break-ups and make-ups led always led to music this good, however, bands would be splitting and reconciling more often than soap opera couples, for the quality of the music produced by the Australian collective here is truly outstanding.
I Want That You Are Always Happy is an elixir; a potion which is both made of quality composite parts and which delivers an intoxicating final product.
Whether turning their hand to post-rock in ‘Sydney to Newcastle’, blues-country in ‘Dan’s Silverleaf’ or lo-fi rock in ‘Jesus Came To My Birthday Party’, the Antipodean septet always sound accomplished. Like a hybrid of Midlake, The Decemberists and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the band deploys a combination of wondrous vocal harmonies, occasionally abstract background noises (‘Sydney to Newcastle’ ends with a recorded train station announcement) and beautiful lyrics to forge a sound unlike any other.
While Jordan Ireland’s excellent lead vocals provide the record with a distinctive central thread, the rest of The Middle East are continually changing the album’s stylistic and tonal landscape, stamping their unique mark on each part of it as they pass through. Ireland, Bree Tranter and Rohin Jones’ intermingling vocals lilt gorgeously through many of the best tracks, but the guitar lines are equally mesmerising: they sweep and drift through the record like smoke, embedded in the texture of every track.
TME’s ability to create a haunting, spectral beauty on tracks like ‘Black Death 1349’ and the standout ‘Land of the Bloody Unknown’ is staggering, while the acoustic intro to ‘Months’ and the cacophonous finale of ‘Mount Morgan End’ are delivered with the same conviction regardless of their hugely different respective volumes. Lyrically, the heartrending ‘Ninth Avenue Reverie’ is astonishing, its simple, tender construction matched by some brilliant writing: “You say 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”
No matter which category you decide to place The Middle East’s music in – even though facilely pigeon-holing the band does them a grave disservice – chances are you’ll rank it highly. This isn’t just quality musicianship in a series of styles, it’s genuine genre hybridisation of the highest, most captivating order.
What make all of this even more impressive, especially considering the album itself was completed in between tour cycles, is that none of the shifts feel forced. Where so many other records fail by trying to do too much, I Want… takes a handful of disparate styles and binds them together effortlessly. For an album with such a fractured production process, it’s a remarkably complete-sounding record.
Rare is it that any album, never mind a début, creates a feeling of wonder with this ease and poise, and rarer still is that record which embraces a multitude of genres with an innovator’s ear instead of a copycat’s. I Want That You Are Always Happy does both these things and many more. If division has produced something this good, we can only hope that The Middle East break up and re-form before they release every record, because this is a slice of original, versatile, awe-inspiring music. Quite simply, marvellous.
Luke Grundy is a fervent assimilator of media living amid the bright lights of London, England. If he’s not watching films or listening to music, he’s probably asleep, eating or dead. A writer, journalist and musician, he is the creator of movie/music blog Odessa & Tucson and lives for epistemology.