Best albums of 2018: #5 Middle Kids “Lost friends”

June 2, 2018. My good friends and concert buddies, Tim and Mark, and I were at the first day of Field Trip, a two-day festival put on by Arts & Crafts Records at Fort York Commons every year in Toronto. We had met at Tim’s Place first for a couple of lunch time drinks that turned into more than expected. We missed the first few bands and when we got there, we were more interested in getting food and hitting the beer and bourbon sampling tents than the performers on stage so I feel that Middle Kids might have been one of the first bands we actually sat down to watch.

As I recall, my friend Jean-Pierre was a bit jealous that I was going to get a chance to see them when we were talking about the festival a few days beforehand. But at the time and even when I sat down on the drying grass, I didn’t really connect the band with “Lost friends”, the album I had happened upon a month earlier and really played the hell out of. Thus, I was quite surprised (and possibly my friends were too) when I recognized pretty much all of their songs. And well, to sum up a long story, Middle Kids really blew me away.

They are trio out of Sydney, Australia, two thirds of which are married couple Hannah Joy and Tim Fitz, both of whom were incidentally middle children. Joy, a classically trained pianist, originally met multi-instrumentalist Fitz in 2014 and he started producing her solo work for her, as well as helping her out when performing live. Not long after, they recruited Harry Day, a recent graduate in jazz studies, to play drums and they became a band. “Lost friends” is the band’s debut album, spearheaded by a single called “Edge of town” that had previously been released on their self-titled EP and famously found a fan in Sir Elton John.

“Lost friends” doesn’t sound like a debut album to me. Indeed, I’ve been struggling while writing these words with trying to decide exactly what this album does sound like to me. It feels a bit derivative but not as much as Pitchfork might have you believe. And though I don’t like the term “indie rock” as a descriptor (because it doesn’t really describe anything), it might actually work here. They blend a lot of stuff together, recalling the best of the 2000s and the 1990s. They layer a lot of instrumentation on top of their trio of instruments and yet they still manage to keep focus on the compelling vocals of their frontwoman. And again, it doesn’t sound freshman at all, no, it’s got all the hooks of a best of compilation, everything sounding like a hit single.

Really, I could’ve chosen any of its twelve songs to focus on so I rolled the dice and picked these three for you. What do you all think?

“On my knees”: This is a song that winds itself up with its intro, setting the drummer Harry Day off to go wild on his kit, somewhat restrained during the verses and off his rocker on the choruses. The guitars are 90s crunchy and there’s plenty of noise to muddy the mix and Hannah Joy feels a little Alanis Morisette here, circa Jagged Little Pill. No, I’m not trying to add insult here, just to situate things. It’s a rocker that flails against the wall for its duration, only to dial it right down at the end to deliver that final: “Yeah, there’s something there that I have never seen.”

“Don’t be hiding”: The guitar strum is fine and the beat is jaunty. But it’s the singing I enjoy here, by times bold and others vulnerable, reflecting the ideas espoused in the lyrics. “If you showed me your body, do you think that I’d like it? Would you stand up there proudly? Would you feel like you’re dying? I don’t care if your jeans don’t fit that well.” The comfort or lack thereof with body image and appearances is not something I concern myself with too much at my age but I remember it. I also realize things my even be more heightened these days with our friend the internet. I can totally see this being a stadium singalong in the near future.

“Mistake”: This last pick feels a bit more retro even, like something from the 80s, perhaps a John Hughes soundtrack. There’s definitely melodrama in the lively drum beat and the way Hannah Joy sings “Oh darling”. There’s also heartbreak and wrongdoing and sorrow and regret. Someone’s standing out in the rain, evoking a multitude of soul-searching scenes in cinematic history, and though it’s not a Hughes flick, for some reason, a certain moment in “Say anything” comes to mind. But it’s not just the themes of the lyrics that feel 80s. That bass line kind of feels Hook-esque and Joy sounds a bit like Margo Timmins and someone else that I just can’t put my finger on. Needless to say, like most of their tunes, “Mistake” feels instantly familiar and new at the same time and dammit if I don’t feel like getting up to dance like Molly Ringwald in “The breakfast club”.

Check back next Friday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. David Byrne “American utopia”
9. James “Living in extraordinary times”
8. The Limiñanas “Shadow people”
7. The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”
6. Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best tunes of 2001: #6 James “Getting away with it (all messed up)”

<< #7    |    #5 >>

For James and their ninth album, “Pleased to meet you”, the story is similar, almost word for word, to that of Pulp’s “We love life”, whose song “The night that Minnie Timperley died” appeared at number eight on this list.

Like Pulp, James was one of my very favourite bands in the latter half of the 1990s. Both bands found great success as part of the Britpop phenomenon after having toiled for many years prior, but in my case, I happened upon them both before I even knew what that there was such a thing. Both bands were coming off an album that, while excellent, did not chart or perform as well commercially as their previous albums, probably resulting from changes in musical direction as well as the waning Britpop movement.

In the case of James, I went out of my way to buy 1999’s “Millionaires”, picking up an ‘import’ copy of the CD at HMV for an exorbitant sum and though I enjoyed it, it took a while for the love to take hold. Of course, that was back when I was still living the bachelor life in Toronto and making a mockery of my financial situation. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my finances were quite different after moving to Ottawa with Victoria in 2001. I didn’t have the money to lavish on CDs, especially on ones that I had never heard before, so I didn’t buy “Pleased to meet you” upon its release. It was years before I finally picked it up used and got to hear the whole album in full, well after the band had called it quits, frontman Tim Booth having announced his intentions to throw his hat into the solo ring. And it might even have been after the band decided to finally get back together for some reunion gigs in 2007, shows that would eventually result in full reactivation of the band. Of course, you all know that James is still slogging it out today, their most recent release being this year’s very fine, “Living in extraordinary times”.

But back in 2001, there was no way of knowing that there would be a reunion so I did my best to hear parts of this ‘final’ album. “Getting away with it (all messed up)” was one of the songs I had no problem locating on the internet, being the only single to be released off the album, and I listened to it quite a bit back then. It starts off all slow and jangling arpeggios against an acoustic strum, Tim Booth whispers and soothes the thrum of the bass and ushers in a temperate beat. The song builds as all good James songs do, layer by layer, energy upon energy, until each of the band’s six members (seven, if you count Brian Eno’s production work) has joined the party. And a party it is, a final (or not quite final) bow, depending on at what point in time from which you were listening.

Lovely James music, gets me everytime.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Teenage Fanclub “Songs from Northern Britain”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Teenage Fanclub
Album Title: Songs from Northern Britain
Year released: 1997
Year reissued: 2018
Details: Black vinyl, 180 gram, reissue, remastered at Abbey Road Studios, included bonus 7″ single “Middle of the road” b/w “Broken”

The skinny: I bet you thought when I stopped posting about my Teenage Fanclub vinyl reissues back September that I only got albums two through four. But not so fast. There’s more. Album number five by the Scottish alt-rock quartet, “Songs from Northern Britain”, is a great one, hitting number 8 on my Best albums of 1997 list back in April and considered by many to be one of their best. Released just as Britpop was starting to wane, the album’s title pokes fun of the fact that the band was lumped in under its umbrella. Like the others reissued this year, this remastered vinyl is lovely sounding and a prize in my collection.

Standout track: “Start again”