It’s hard to fault a new band for trying too hard and being overly ambitious, but Midas Fall is only setting itself up for a big letdown when the press release for its debut album, Eleven. Return and Revert, puts the Edinburgh quintet in the same sentence as the likes of Radiohead and Portishead. While these youngsters obviously have some grand aspirations and possess no small amount of musical proficiency, they lack an original, distinctive vision that the untouchable acts they namecheck found on their own. Though that’s certainly no surprise for a group making only its maiden voyage, Midas Fall sets the bar too high for itself, shooting for the stars, but ending up lost in space instead.
Give the group this much credit, though: If Midas Fall was aiming to give you an idea of what a proggy take on The Bends would sound like with Eleven, the five-piece probably succeeded. Certainly, they do an admirable job of studying, then trying their hand at the dark intensity and swelling dynamics of Radiohead’s first career peak. The album begins intriguingly and promisingly with “Movie Screens”, which starts cautiously, only to rush headlong into the controlled chaos of guitars and keyboards that swirl around frontwoman Elizabeth Heaton’s yearning vocals. While Heaton’s wailing might verge on excessive Dolores O’Riordan-like yodeling on “Century”, the track does create some tense and dense atmospherics, with its trip-hoppish rhythms and overdriven guitar feedback.
But Midas Fall’s formula of slow-burning instrumental play and desperate sentiment soon becomes too formulaic. What’s absent is a sense of variety in the music, since there’s little change in the structure of the songs or a break in the overcast moods. After a while, Eleven‘s wannabe epics become interchangeable. Dirge-like numbers such as “Half Horizon” and “Stalking Moon” just seem too long-winded and redundant, with what seems like the same emotive singing, the same psychodrama guitar chords, the same simmering tone. Mistaking their own formidable technical skill for the spirit and inspiration of their influences, the members of Midas Fall sap the spontaneity and almost any glimmer of fun from their music. So even when they let loose on the album’s most exuberant rocker, “My Radio Star”, it still comes off too considered and measured, only a contrived remake of Radiohead’s muscular “Dark Star” from The Bends.
Though none of the offerings on Eleven are rendered without great care and deliberation, the soundscapes yield diminishing returns as the record drags on. With each passing track, the album becomes less dramatic, once you not only anticipate the soft-loud-louder buildup on any given song, but also come to expect the strained, sometimes cringing vocals that go with it. Just as the ebb-and-flow dynamics of “Nautical Song” seem tedious and inevitable, the lyrics, too, are predictably overwrought and come off like platitudes. As Heaton implores, “But I held on too much too late / Won’t pretend to stay the same / Won’t pretend to face the day”.
All in all, Eleven. Return and Revert doesn’t make a bad first impression, just one that has trouble holding its listener’s attention for long. Maybe a few more moments like the groovy prog of “Fog Sky Nun” would help—even if Heaton obviously takes her cues from P.J. Harvey here, it’s the one track where Midas Fall has the swagger to match its musicianship, and it seems more precocious than pretentious. It suggests that the building blocks for something better and more lasting are on Eleven, if only Midas Fall can figure out how to put them all together not on technique alone, but also with a little more feel and imagination.