Live music galleries: Middle Kids [2018]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

Middle Kids live at Field Trip 2018

Artist: Middle Kids
When: June 2nd, 2018
Where: Fort York Stage, Field Trip Festival, Fort York Commons, Toronto
Context: Six weeks ago to the day, I posted another one of these galleries and all the while bemoaning the fact that I haven’t seen any live shows for months. My, how the times have changed. While that post was being written and the photos being placed in some semblance of order, our government was still maintaining that the risk to Canadians from COVID-19 was low and life still seemed normal. A mere handful of days later, I was working from home, we were being asked to leave the house only when necessary, and ‘social distancing’ had become a thing. Seeing any new live shows seems a pipe dream at the moment so you can expect to see a few more of these pining live gallery posts popping up on these pages.

This particular gallery comes from 2018 and the last time Arts & Crafts Records put on one of its two-day Field Trip festivals in Toronto. I went down for the weekend in early June, stayed with my friend Tim, and we met up on each of the days with our friend Mark. Australian indie rock trio, Middle Kids, played a 6pm set on the first day, unofficially, the party day for me and my two friends. I had only given their debut album, “Lost friends”, a cursory listen beforehand but had enjoyed it so I dragged my cohorts to the side stage. Unfortunately, the three of us were more focused on replenishing our drinks at this point in the day. I now regret catching most of Middle Kids set from the beer queues because their album ended up being amongst my top five favourites of the year. I won’t make that ‘mistake’ again the next time I see them… whenever that may be.

Point of reference song: Mistake

Tim Fitz of Middle Kids
Cameron Henderson, touring guitarist extraordinaire
Hannah Joy and Tim Fitz of Middle Kids
Harry Day of Middle Kids on drums
Cameron Henderson feeling it
Hannah Joy of Middle Kids

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 2011: #26 Gotye “Somebody that I used to know”

<< #27    |    #25 >>

My memory is super fuzzy about how I came across this one but I remember watching the video quite a bit on AUX TV during my morning routine in 2011. So it might have been there that my interest was piqued and I was coaxed to check out the rest of the album, “Making mirrors”.

Gotye (pronounced phonetically, as you would say the French name “Gauthier”) is the stage name for Wouter De Backer, a Belgian-born Australian with a Dutch name. (I know, right? The man screams globalization.) He is the drummer of an indie pop group from Australia called The Basics, an outfit I did check out after getting into Gotye’s music, a number of years ago, but their material never grabbed me and I have never gone back for a second go. I also have never gone back to check out Gotye’s previous two solo efforts and since he announced in 2014 that there would be no more Gotye music and made good on that promise, “Making mirrors” is the only album I know. However, it really is a great one and worth a look for those out there that only know the single. It is super eclectic, traversing many sounds and referencing multiple genres and musical eras, and yet, surprisingly cohesive, drawn altogether by Gotye’s compelling vocals.

Its sales were of course bolstered by this one monster hit. “Somebody that I used to know” was a smash the world over, making Gotye and New Zealand songwriter Kimbra, whose vocals feature prominently in the song, household names. Very quickly, the song became a favourite to cover by many artists. In fact in Canada, a version by Walk off the Earth rivals the original in popularity. The video they made for their cover shows all five members playing the song on one guitar and it went viral, breaking the Burlington band into the mainstream. It’s so big here that I once got into heated discussion with some people that swore theirs was the original.

But back to that original.

Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know” starts off quiet and sexy, a little like Edwyn Collin’s “A girl like you”, a little like whispering in your lover’s ear to wake her in the middle of the night. Interesting then, that it’s a break up song. Or rather a song that is weeks or months removed from a break up, wondering at how two people can be so close only to be total strangers.

“But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough”

It is right about this point in the song that Gotye lets loose some Sting worthy power vocals and the quiet becomes all power and passion. And just when you thought you knew what the song was about, the point of view and vocals are shifted to Kimbra and she too is quiet and composed at first. Then, they both become all fiery and alive. The instrumentation, meanwhile, mirrors the emotions of the vocals, utilizing samples of jazz guitars and dressing them up in electronic beats and xylophone melodies. To sum up: quite lovely.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.