The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy
The Middle East were a musical collective from Queensland, Australia focusing mainly on folk songs revolving around dark subject matter. Their (first?) full length album, I Want That You Are Always Happy, is no exception. This album opens with a song about the Black Death spreading across Europe in 1349 before going into the unsettling My Grandma Was Pearl Hall, a song about about familial relationships on the surface, but hiding something in the closet of the homestead — something that should stay hidden. This song literally gave me chills the first time I heard time it.
‘I want that you are always happy’ sounds like something a ghost would say — pleading through some sort of medium to a lost lover — ‘be happy without me’. Like the smiling damned portrayed in the black-and-white album artwork, this album isn’t all tears. The female-led, pop number, Jesus Came To My Birthday Party, is an upbeat track that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Feist record (until you realize she’s a ghost as well, a spirit that was taken from this world on her 17th birthday) and Dan’s Silverleaf is almost danceable, but they are the exceptions to the overall dark feel of the album.
The first time I listened to this album, I was in the Rocky Mountains. It was pitch black outside as the starlight had just been extinguish by dark thunder clouds. It was dumping rain outside my tent. I put on my headphones and lay there in the darkness — my own Cormac McCarthy novel unraveling in my head as The Middle East provided the soundtrack. I predicted its place in my year-end list before Mount Morgan End(ed). The next day, driving home with sunglasses blocking out the sun rays over the front range, I had my doubts. Like a vampire, the tracks seemed to fade to mere ashes in the light of day. It’s taken me awhile to come back around to what I heard on that first listen — on that dark night — and sometimes it’s hard to find, but when I do find it, I find some serious dept — depth you can literally lose yourself in.
Sometimes you wonder where the darkness comes from, but usually you don’t get an answer. In the case of The Middle East and I Want That You Are Always Happy, it came in the form of a Facebook post, a ‘To Whom I May Concern’ letter less than four months after the album was released and went to #11 on the Australian Album Charts. It turns out the songs you hear on this album really are the songs of ghosts — the songs of a group of people that no longer exist as The Middle East.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN :
writing to inform you that we’re ceasing. i’m not sure if we’ll make more music later on or not.
we don’t feel like playing anymore for a whole lot of reasons that i won’t list here and i’m afraid if we continued any longer it would just be a moneygrab. i’d rather go hungry. thank you to all those who came to shows.
we had fun.
t.s elliot wrote ‘you are the music while the music lasts’, but he also wrote that confusing little book about cats so don’t put too much stock in his quotes.
i’m very tired. until next time.
the middle east.
The Middle East – Land Of The Bloody Unknown