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I Want That You Are Always Happy
The Middle East I Want That You Are Always Happy
Released 3 June 2011
Producer The Middle East, Mark Myers
Label Play It Again Sam
Length 62:50
Genre Folk, post rock
Website myspace.com/visitthemiddleeast

One of the things about having to review an album is that you are sometimes reminded that some are worth spending time with. An initial lukewarm response to this album has developed into a solid affection. It might have been a mood thing. This is melancholy but the type that contradicts itself by being quite uplifting. If you approach it in a pensive mood, you might find that you become comfortable in how you feel, the kind of contentment that’s just a fraction away from happiness.

Not an easy listen at first I Want That You Are Always Happy is a slow burner, an unusual stance for a debut. Although 2009’s The Recordings of the Middle East had eight songs, this is presented as their first album proper. Clocking in at over an hour with fourteen songs and a hidden track, it’s fair to assume they view the previous release as an E.P. It’s mostly lo-fi and intimate sounding with some bigger moments that would sound at home emitting from festival stages this summer. The writing and lead vocal duties are shared by Rohin Jones and Jordan Ireland, and the difference in their styles gives the record a nice contrast. The band have made quite an impact on their side of the world (Queensland, Australia), surprising as there is more than a subtle influence of Americana here. With this album and the use of previous single 'Blood' on the soundtrack of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, they will be soon as heralded on this side of the globe.

The album is at its most foreboding at the beginning, 'Black Death 1349' is as cheerful as its title suggests. The grave tone continues for 'My Grandma Was Pearl Hall' with sombre piano, meditative vocals and lyrics. 'As I Go To See Janey' is a downbeat folksy number, with a beautiful arrangement and some vocal high notes that showcase the range of Ireland’s voice, another example is 'Hunger Song' one of the album’s highlights.

'Jesus Came to My Birthday Party' introduces a more upbeat tone, with some vivacious female vocals and a little distortion on guitars making this a lively number. The slightly upbeat tone prevails for most of the album, with the exception of 'Sydney to Newcastle' and 'Mount Morgan'. The former is an elegant piano instrumental that samples everyday train station noises and the latter is a heavy brooding meandering number. Both tracks come midway through the album and act as a kind of interval, before things pick up again. That’s not to say the tracks are lacking in any way, both are excellent.

'Land Of The Bloody Unkown' is melancholy but with a subtle uplifting undertone, a common mood on the album. Fleet Foxes are an obvious comparison, most notably on the chorus of the upbeat 'Months' which follows the aforementioned mid section. However, they don’t seem concerned with broad appeal and despite being reminiscent of bands making an impact on the charts, theirs is initially a more challenging sound. 'Very Many' is sparse sounding and betrays music made by as many members (seven). It’s not that the band don’t build layered sounds or atmosphere that demonstrate the varied instruments being used, they just never saturate.

Lyrically the album is concerned with religion, finding it and losing it. There are overt mentions, most notably in 'Jesus Came To My Birthday', "That was a long time ago, and I haven’t seen him in a while", and the confusing "Jesus, you’re like a fire in my foreskin everyday" on 'My Grandma Was Pearl Hall', what they are saying about religion isn’t always clear, they leave you guessing and that’s fine.

'Dan’s Silverleaf' with its upbeat tempo is one of the highlights, in fact the last few songs are all quite upbeat, but a delicate despondency still runs through them. 'Ninth Avenue Reverie' is exactly that, and creates a reflective daydream like quality with its musings on love, "You say you want your ashes mixed up with your lover’s salt". The album manifests with the exceptional 'Deep Water', a courageous ten minute tour de force closer where piano, slide guitar and vocals that recall Damien Rice at his best, collaborate to fashion the best track on the album. Hidden instrumental track 'Mount Morgan End' is an explosion of jazz horns and cymbals that demonstrates how experimental the band are, earlier realised on the aforementioned 'Mount Morgan'. You get the impression that this only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the band could accomplish.

I Want That You Are Always Happy is much better than I first gave it credit for, and although slightly self indulgent the album never grates. There isn’t a bad song here, and fondness grows with every listen. A sombre album that is at times as elevating as it is reflective.

- Ray Burke