Album Reviews

Harp – Albion

(Bella Union) UK release date: 1 December 2023

Sometime Midlake frontman Tim Smith returns with a new project that’s part family affair, part dreamy homage to the classic ’70s English folk tradition

Harp - Albion It’s been over a decade now since Tim Smith left the Texan folk-rock band Midlake, just as they seemed on the cusp of a major commercial breakthrough. The band’s second album, the Trials of Van Occupanther, had been a major success, and the follow-up, 2010’s The Courage Of Others received even more positive reviews.

It was a bit of a jolt then, when lead singer Smith announced he was leaving to form a new project Harp. The remaining members of Midlake regrouped and moved forward, while Smith’s new solo project seemed to be almost permanently stalled. Following a divorce, and meeting his new wife Kathi Zung, the creative fire was relit, and Harp was reborn with Zung also on board.

Smith, much like his former band, appears to have been beamed in from another era. Albion gives the impression, from the cover onwards, of being in the classic ’70s English folk tradition. Smith is a renowned Anglophile, and cites the likes of the Cocteau Twins, Tears For Fears and most of all, The Cure‘s third album Faith as being big influences on this record.

Albion is an album that doesn’t mind taking its own sweet time in getting going – this is a relaxed, languid record that isn’t too far removed from Midlake’s retro folk-rock. The stately pace of the brief instrumental, The Pleasant Grey, does indeed recall The Cure’s more doomy moments, but there are also nods to the likes of Talk Talk in the impeccably constructed atmospherics.

There’s a dreamy, gauzy feel to most of Albion – tracks like I Am The Seed and the standout A Fountain are heavy on the reverb and effects, with the latter in particular sounding like it could have been released on 4AD in the early ’80s. Smith’s strong baritone suits these songs perfectly – A Fountain becomes quite moving, with lines like “with the loneliest years behind me, the world is right” beautifully describing his journey over the past few years.

At times, Albion feels like Smith looking back over his life since he left Midlake and taking stock. Throne Of Amber has a telling line of “well, I went mad… I was mad” while the guitars and synths swirl around Zung’s drum machine – it’s very reminiscent of Radiohead‘s more choral moments. Silver Wings showcases some jangly guitars, while the lovely Country Cathedral Drive feels like the perfect song to watch the sun go down to at the end of a lovely summer day (even if this album has been released in December).

While it’s all beautifully played, and easy to relax to, nobody is going to accuse Albion of being a particularly thrilling listen. There’s an almost narcotic feel to much of the album, and although it’s a very manageable 40 minutes, it can feel a lot longer – a fact not helped by the homogeneity of much of the material: on the first few listens many of the tracks seem to blend into each other. It’s nice to have a songwriter and musician of Smith’s calibre back active again though, and Albion feels like a refresh and new starting point for him, something that could well lead onto greater things down the line.

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