Changing Band Lineup Can Drastically Change Sound

Emma Dahl

What defines a band? Is it their sound or their lineup? It’s not uncommon for musicians to be in flux, for guitarists to switch in and out or for a member to leave to pursue a solo act. But if a band’s lineup changes, and this changes their sound, is it still the same band?

I believe the answer to this question depends on a few critical factors. How critical was the missing member’s role in the band? How unique was his or her voice or compositional ability? How noticeable and distinct were his or her contributions to the group’s music?

The real problem is not whether a band sounds the same if a member leaves; that condition is sure to vary from situation to situation. Maybe the real question is, should a band continue to try to relive the glory of its earlier days after it has lost its most prominent frontman?

For me, the answer is no.

Indie rock band Midlake is a key example of this situation. Midlake’s classic sound is a kind of melancholy Americana, with dark instrumentation (mournful flutes and minor guitar chords) and wavering, deep vocals. Up until late 2012, Tim Smith was the guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter of the group; he wrote and composed the songs and lent his distinctive, dramatic voice to the recordings. Once he left, the band scrapped their upcoming album and decided to start from scratch.

I highly recommend older Midlake albums, but their new album “Antiphon,” which came out in 2013,  is nowhere near the quality of the music that Tim Smith produced. The album just sounds juvenile, and not in a good way. It sounds like there wasn’t any thought put into the form of the songs. The image and name of Midlake has come to represent the stellar package that the band once was, and as a fan, it’s frustrating they’re using that name to sell their subpar Midlake impersonation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that the other members of Midlake are persisting in their music making and that they refuse to give up. It’s true that their instrumentation remains beautiful. However, they aren’t the band they once were, so I don’t think they should pretend to be.

While it depends on how influential that given person was in the songwriting process or how distinct his or her voice was, it’s undeniable that something fundamental about a band changes when a member departs. It’s the responsibility of the band to face the fact their group isn’t what it once was, and if their sound is so noticeably different that a fan could notice, they should avoid using the old band’s reputation as a means to sell more albums.