When a band suddenly becomes a household name due to the unexpected success of a single, doubters tend to throw out terms like “one-hit wonders” or “overnight sensation”. Music history is littered with artists and bands who flamed out after one or two songs. When Middle Kids‘ single, “Edge of Town”, skyrocketed to the top of the “must listen” category after Elton John shared it on his Beats 1 radio show, some fully expected them to follow the likes of A-Ha and Dead Or Alive. This happened in May 2016. Now two years later and almost on the exact anniversary of that faithful day, the trio of Hannah Joy, Tim Fitz, and Harry Day are setting aside any concerns with the release of their debut album, Lost Friends.
Full of slow-burning, arousing rock and pop-rock anthems, Lost Friends is reminiscent of the coming-of-age music of the late ’80s and ’90s. It is filled with boisterous choruses, catchy riffs, and moving and passionate stories. Lead single, “Edge of Town”, was just the tip of the iceberg. The song offered a hint of Middle Kids’ moving, rock balladry. Its carefully orchestrated intro gives way to an exhilarating climax. Joy’s lyrics, meanwhile, are an adventure of a different kind – an introspective struggle with anxiety and the realization only so much can be controlled.
“I got all muddled up and journeyed to the edge of town,
And then the road cracked open, sucked me in, and I went down.
Now standing face to face with the king of the underground,
Some things just don’t add up, I’m upside down, I’m inside out.”
Album opener, “Bought It”, reaches near breathtaking levels, revealing that the band can simultaneously dazzle and exhilarate. It’s one of those rare “OMG” moments, and this is the record’s first track. Joy’s songwriting approaches Dolores O’Riordan, specifically on The Cranberries’ “Linger”. Her emotive voice hollers to anyone listening, “I need a little something, and I can’t seem to get it. Now, love, help me now.”
Right out of the pages of Sunflower Bean and Wolf Alice comes “Mistake”, a euphoric and immensely moving number and the LP’s most explosive. It’s propulsive and anthemic approach provides the perfect setting for Joy’s passionate plea of forgiveness and redemption.
“You’re standing out in the rain tonight
Like you’ve got something to say to God.
And you got a debt to pay back
For something you did way back.”
HAIM-like flourishes are heard on the soaring “On My Knees”, the shimmering “Don’t Be Hiding”, and the cinematic “Please”. The latter is a heartbreaking and emotive number about refusing to say goodbye to someone.
For all the anthemic qualities of Lost Friends, Middle Kids equal excel on the quieter and more solemn songs. The title track sees the band enter into the folk-rock territory of Big Thief, and they deliver a song worthy of comparisons to the Brooklyn-based band. Languid at first, the song booms in its second half as Joy tells a story of the day she and her friends went their separate ways. The short but tender “Hole” strips all the instrumentation down to Joy sitting at the piano. As the melancholic notes rise from the keys, she quickly shares her fears and worries about what awaits her as an adult.
Just as the group slow things down, never too far are the more energetic and visceral affairs, such as the folk-pop perfection that is “Never Start”. Akin to the brilliant artistry of First Aid Kit, Middle Kids deliver a track worthy of the stages of Newport Folk Festival and Pickathon. This tune about two people features some of Joy’s best work, particularly the following lyrics that reveals the one-sided nature of the relationship:
“You can be the self-appointed, sitting in your chair.
And I’ll be your tornado, baby, twisting through the air.”
That last line also describes the album’s finale, “So Long, Farewell, I’m Gone”. The song is akin to the slow-building, slow-burner ways of the LP’s first tracks, but it is edgier and heavier. The guitars wail a little harder, the rhythms are a tad harsher, and Joy’s vocals are heavier. As the song builds in its intensity, a realization occurs – this is Middle Kids’ own anthem. This is their song to what they’ve seen and overcome. Their song is to the naysayers and doubters who didn’t think they would get here. In other words, they’re not saying goodbye for good. They’re saying goodbye to the voices who didn’t believe a stellar album like Lost Friends was possible in the first place.
Lost Friends is out now on Domino Records, and it’s available on Bandcamp. Middle Kids are back out on tour at the end of the week. They’ll finish the Australian leg before heading to North America and Europe. Dates and information are available here.
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