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.