The gifted Australian trio Middle Kids is back with a follow-up release to its superb 2018 album, Lost Friends; we remain in excellent hands.
“Real Thing” pulses with an off-kilter rhythm section, navigated with nonchalance by smoky-voiced frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Joy. The melody starts casually, on the second beat of the measure, much of it double-time, comprising a lot of words but only a couple of different notes. I get from this a sense of escalation, which gets suspended by a verse extension in which the melody slows down and expands, right on the resonant phrases “hopeless romantics, anxiety magnets” (0:25). We retreat briefly into the opening melody before advancing into what we’ve been waiting for: the killer chorus. Middle Kids are in fact masters of the killer chorus; for evidence look no further than the song “Mistake,” from Lost Friends (and featured here on at the beginning of the year on EPS 6.01), which still gives me goose bumps.
What makes the chorus here work so well feels like a magic trick. It neither attempts to pound a simplified musical phrase into your head nor relies on a flagrantly memorable chord change. The most noticeable thing it does is alternate double- and single-time lines; the other prominent feature is its asymmetry: the way the third line doesn’t directly mirror the first line, as the ear expects, but extends an extra measure. And right there, somehow, is the hook, when Joy sings, “Are you like me, do you lie awake thinking?” (0:44) The line illustrates an ongoing feature of Joy’s presentation, which subtly fluctuates between phrases that seem slightly slurred or indistinct and those that jump out with precision. The chorus finishes with some wordless vocal leaps that now show how much more elastic Joy’s range is than you might initially expect (0:50-1:00). Somehow, altogether, the effect is brilliant.
Lastly, note the guitar work throughout. The band presents as a trio but uses an extra guitar in the mix, and when performing live. As you listen, it’s worth reminding yourself that this is a completely guitar-based band; all the heft and drive of their sound on top of the rhythm section comes from guitars. They’re kind of a glorious anomaly that way here in 2019, with no laptop twiddling or sampling going on. And look, I’ve got nothing against technology per se but dislike when sounds become fads and in any case look to music as something requiring intellectual, emotional, and physical skill, generated by vibrations arising from three-dimensional reality (plucked or hammered strings; breath disturbing the air). These guys, to quote their own song, are the real thing.
You’ll find this track on Middle Kids’ brand-new six-track mini album New Songs For Old Problems, released last week. Grab it for just $5.99 at Bandcamp, where you’ll also want to buy Lost Friends if you don’t already have it. MP3 via The Current.
(Note that MP3s from The Current are available in files that are 128kbps, which is below the iTunes standard of 192kbps, not to mention the higher-def standard of 320kbps. I personally don’t hear much difference on standard-quality equipment but if you are into high-end sound you’ll probably notice something. In any case I always encourage you to download the MP3 for the purposes of getting to know a song via a few listens; if you like it I still urge you to buy the music. It’s the right thing to do.)