PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Malcolm Middleton: Into the Woods

Brandon Arnold

Arab Strap's multi-instrumentalist ventures out on his own for the second time, and the results may surprise you. Into the Woods is a penetrating rumination on life, love, and the pursuit of something approaching happiness. It's easily his most mature, sonically adventurous work to date.


Malcolm Middleton

Into the Woods

Label: Chemikal Underground
US Release Date: 2005-08-16
UK Release Date: 2005-06-14
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

If the whole of Scottish duo Arab Strap's career can be summed up as a long walk home from the bar, Malcolm Middlton's second solo effort, Into the Woods is the morning after, waking up slightly hungover, sipping your coffee as the sun creeps into your apartment. There's a cautious optimism in Middleton's latest collection of songs that moves beyond the two dimensional explorations in despair that characterize much of his work with Aidan Moffat in Arab Strap. Into the Woods seems to be his treatise on the fragility of happiness.

Into the Woods has less in common with Middleton's last solo effort, the oddly-titled razor-blade symphony 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine, than it does with Arab Strap's 2003 LP Monday at the Hug & Pint, an underrated record that pulled the duo's music up from the slippery slope of mope with songs featuring melodic hooks and even a few dance beats. Into the Woods goes a step further in proving Middleton's talents as a pop songsmith. A long time follower of his past output might be taken aback by an unapologetic new wave rager like "No Modest Bear", or a simple acoustic pop number like "Break My Heart", but it's a logical next step for Middleton. Emotional honesty has been a constant through his work, and the clouds must lift eventually, if only for a little while.

That isn't to say that he's all roses and daisies now. The songs remain unflinchingly self-aware and self-deprecating, all resonating with a cynicism that is palpable. With lines like "you're gonna break my heart, I know it/ I'd rather have you than sing these shit songs," you feel certain that Middleton, almost speak-singing in his thick Scottish brogue, is not writing from a character's perspective. There's an uneasy voyeurism listening to Middleton's songs.

Most of the songs on Into the Woods reveal a man in constant struggle with self-doubt and a general mistrust of all those around him, but desperate for some sort of connection. The lyrics of "A Happy Medium" ("Woke up again today/ Realized I hate myself/ My face is a disease") seem almost unbearably bleak, but these lines are sheathed in a maniacally catchy pop song. This tonal complexity is where the brilliance of this record lies. Middleton manages to craft tunes that are both heartbreaking and life affirming, without being overly melodramatic.

Middleton is not alone in these woods. Unlike his last solo effort, a minimal record featuring the artist accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar, Into the Woods is a lush, multi-textural album, helped by appearances by upstanding folks of the Glasgow music community, including members of Mogwai, The Delgadoes, Reindeer Section, and the other half of Arab Strap, Aidan Moffat (on drums for the album's closer). Musically, Middleton gives his compositional muscles a full work out, exploring styles from synth pop ("Loneliness Shines") to rocked-up bluegrass ("A New Heart"), and there are enough solemn dirges ("Devastation") and bone crunchers ("Bear With Me") to satiate the appetite of Arab Strap devotees.

Ultimately, Into the Woods is a misleading title. Unlike much of his previous work, it doesn't feel as if Middleton is leading us into a dim, dank place of dread. Instead it's a measured walk in the direction of light. Though his warning "it's only a matter of time before I feel like shit again/ I'm a happy army marching to defeat" on "Monday Night Nothing" may prove true, at least he's shown us that he's capable of something besides misery, and crafted some of the best music of his career in the process.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.