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The Middle East

I Want That You Are Always Happy

(Missing Piece; US: 12 Jul 2011; UK: 7 Jun 2011)

The Middle East, from Australia, know how to make a beautiful sound. The folk-inspired pop on I Want That You Are Always Happy is the kind of sound bands like Mumford & Sons wish they could make. It’s energetic instead of shrill, deliberate rather than plodding, and the best parts of this record mesh a pop sensibility with the dusty folk feel of stringed instruments without dulling down either side. Songs like “Jesus Came to My Birthday Party” and “Hunger Song” are pastoral and sweet, the hooks deep and lasting, but they also up the ante on the overly quiet opener, “Black Death, 1349”. While that song confirms the beauty of the band’s sound, it, along with a handful of other songs, feels too languid to hold your attention, particularly because the band can be just as beautiful when it picks up the pace. The balladry still has its moments—the haunting “As I Go to See Janey” in particular—but the Middle East is most compelling when it applies a power-pop bent to otherwise hushed parts. The band combines the two better than most bands out there, and manages to maintain a reverence toward its influences all the way through. I Want that You Are Always Happy is an honest sound, one with as much darkness as it has light, and though it slows too much in spots, the record has more than enough compelling moments to bring you back for future spins.

Rating:

Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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