From the highest points of Manchester, one can see the moors stretching out to the foothills of the Pennines mountain range, also known as “the backbone of England”. Whether or not the post/prog rock impressionists of Midas Fall are privy to this view from their city’s tallest towers, the dramatic landscape is nevertheless mirrored by their music: reverberating guitar, suggestive of vast plains, is stirred by gusts of whirling piano notes and counterbalanced by vocalist Elizabeth Heaton’s heartrending melodies, which soar and dive time and again like a bright red kite beset by turbulence. As the release of their latest album, The Menagerie Inside, fell on the Friday of the summer’s last long weekend in North America, blustery autumnal imagery seems especially appropriate, (and even extends as far as the colour pallet of the album cover), if only to serve as a bright flag to figuratively wave at those returning to school or work who would otherwise miss this breathtaking album.
The human voice, as an instrument, isn’t given enough credit for the magic it can conjure, evoking a range of emotional expressions with universal resonance to each listener. Similar to singers such as Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser or Lisa Gerard (Dead Can Dance), Heaton’s voice is iconic in its particular context and brilliantly elaborated by the music of Midas Fall; Lisa Cuthbert being a noteworthy exception, few vocalists in the sphere of progressive/post-rock music make as strong or affecting an impression: from the first verse of “Push” to the triumphant chorus of closing track “Holes”, Heaton’s voice is equal parts swirling maelstrom and impassioned dissection of profound personal connections, the combination of which projects the strength of will it takes to articulate overwhelming emotions as well as the anxious, urgent instinct to purge oneself of them.
Taut, emotive instrumental drama pervading the album is balanced by Heaton’s rich, bright tone, which maintains the optimism of youth – a time when life is bright and new and every moment, thought, and feeling is amplified to sublimity by virtue of its novelty – so that, while wounds of deep emotional intensity do heal over time (and manifest in similarly impassioned songs, albeit tinted with the melancholy scars of hindsight; see for instance Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Rumour Cubes), the listener experiences The Menagerie Inside as though startled to find that emotional woundings can still resonate with such fresh and crippling poignancy.
Although one is often apprehensive whenever electronica is combined with guitar-based music, Midas Fall are wisely subtle with its employ, which is limited to tension-building rhythmic flourishes on “Low”, “Tramadol Baby” and “Half a Mile Outside”. And, while reverberating echo-y guitar is a striking staple of the band’s sound, it too is carefully measured and only sparingly unfurled, as in bright passages on “Circus Performer” and “Tramadol Baby”.
One of the most poignant experiences of youth is the end of an intimate relationship and autumn seems to herald the onset of personal calamities for young people (particularly freshman students at college.) For many, it is their first personal encounter with grief and loss and, for some, the ordeal is as overwhelming and irreparably traumatic as an actual death. Although dark music, so called for its unflinching presentation of “difficult” emotions, is most often embraced by angry young men seemingly as a rite of passage en route to adulthood, one would hope that The Menagerie Inside finds its way onto the playlists of both men and women as a genuinely cathartic expression of their experiences and an impressively emotive musical journey in itself.
*EU/UK readers, support Midas Fall’s tour fundraiser here*