By Phil Jones, Afternoon Host
Artist: Middle Kids
Album: Today We’re The Greatest
Favorite Songs: “Cellophane (Brain),” “Questions,” “Stacking Chairs”
For Fans Of: Florence and the Machine, The Strokes, Andrew Bird
Australian alt-rock trio Middle Kids delivers an instant classic with their new album, Today We’re The Greatest. With an introspective tone and powerful performances, it’s easy to see that today, they’re the best band in the world.
THE BAND’S LYRICAL GROWTH
Middle Kids began their musical journey by singing stories about other people. Their first single, “Edge of Town,” is almost Homeric in its scope. Its heroine travels to the edge of the world and gets gobbled up. Their self-titled EP is full of immaculate stories, and their follow up album Lost Friends continued the trend. They chase lovers down in the pouring rain, shake their fists at God, and go on adventures worthy of the Ancient Greeks.
Their 2019 EP New Songs for Old Problems brought the band closer to earth. Singer Hannah Joy muses on the depression and comfort of a daily commute and the perils of losing your sense of worth in political debate. While definitely a big change, Middle Kids never lost their grandiosity.
Today We're the Greatest is the first time that we really hear the band in conversation. It's an absolute joy to listen in on. It was recorded throughout 2019, when Joy was seven months pregnant (with the first Middle Kids kid!) The lyrics take on a new specificity as she reflects on a life as absolutely epic as that lived by the characters she's written about. Her beautifully tremulous falsetto and passionate belting are directed not at us, not at characters, but at herself.
A KALEIDOSCOPE OF EMOTIONS
Today We’re The Greatest opens on its softest note, a prologue of sorts. The track, “Bad Neighbours,” was largely written by bassist (and Joy's husband) Tim Fitz. His lyrics set a gentle stage to prepare us for a thrilling journey into Joy's memories. “Cellophane (Brain)” is really the indication that we're in brand new territory for the band. This melancholy jam has her “riding the train and eating apples,” feeling all the buzzing inspiration underneath her conscious thoughts waiting to burst through. The melody is wild and unpredictable, yet not too difficult to follow along. It gives drummer Harry Day a chance to show his incredible ability to shift from continent moving symbol crashes to an almost timid groove.
The bursts of lyrical brilliance keep coming, evoking the album's cover, where beams of light shoot from Joy's eyes. We explore her sense of isolation within her family, learn of the hazards of “too much escaping,” and shout out loud when she “finds her freedom” in the absolutely ridiculous “I Don't Care.”
THE SOUND OF EVERYTHING COMING TOGETHER
Fitz brings incredible depth to songs when his bass playing takes over the melody, as it does on “Questions.” In interviews Joy has been candid about her struggles with alcoholism. Knowing this, “Questions” plays like a phone call for help from a past Joy to a present Fitz. One of the only times we hear his voice on the record is at the end of the song. He sings, "don't ask, don't ask,” simultaneously creating comfort and confusion.
The production is brilliant throughout, allowing Joy's guitar god moments to fit perfectly with Day's exuberant playing. Songs like “Summer Hill” are full of distinct highs and lows. The quiet moments sit in stark contrast, forcing you to soak in the lyrics.
The past versions of Fitz and Joy finally meet on the beautiful penultimate song. “Stacking Chairs” is a wonderfully familiar metaphor for showing up in even the unglamorous parts of love. While the album was finished well before the pandemic, the memory of waiting around to clean up a gymnasium after a dance is even more romantic now.
When it all closes on the title track “Today We're the Greatest,” that statement is surely proven true. In just forty minutes, we've journeyed into deeply personal light and darkness with Day, Fitz, and Joy. Still, the album is full of music that is, as Joy says, "in love with the listener".