The Queensland, Australia, seven-piece the Middle East formed in 2005 over a shared love of Silver Jews, Bill Callahan and Lambchop, and elements of each underscore their deliciously melancholic music. Their sophomore album's opening track, "Black Death 1349," nods towards Smog-style slow-core but is lifted somewhere else entirely by its multi-layered instrumentation and air of haunting dread; "My Grandma Was Pearl Hall" takes Lambchop's air of existential alienation and transforms it into a funereal reverie. This is music which is at times so hushed that it seems to scarcely disturb the air around it: The mono-strummed "Very Many" could be Bon Iver taken to a new, nth level of introspection. So pervasive is this air of library calm that any injection of volume or dissonance comes as an abrasive shock: Within the context of the album, the roistering, Sonic Youth-like "Jesus Came To My Birthday Party" sounds deliberately subversive of what surrounds it. Singer Rohin Jones's vocal rarely rises above a husky, conspiratorial whisper, and ultimately the Middle East's signal achievement is to dream up a music that is as bleak and wracked as Will Oldham yet also hypnotically lush and atmospheric.
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