2016 was a real watershed year for a certain kind of female singer-songwriter.
Angel Olsen had a breakthrough with her album My Woman and found herself playing the Sydney Opera House. Marissa Nadler released her stunningly dark and ethereal Strangers to critical acclaim and an unprecedented level of attention. Sharon Van Etten’s star rose to a point where she enjoyed crossover success as an actress in the Netflix original The OA. Brooklyn band Big Thief’s debut Masterpiece ranked highly in numerous “best of” lists and proved that iconic independent record label Saddle Creek had not run dry.
All of these artists, and many more that I haven’t the space to mention, contributed to a bit of a phenomenon. A phenomenon that shows no signs of stopping in 2017 if Middle Kids and their debut EP are anything to go by.
Propulsive, energetic and effortlessly profound, Middle Kids have cemented their pedestal on Australia’s musical landscape with their debut EP.
Middle Kids are a three piece band from Sydney made up of Hannah Joy (vocals/guitar), Tim Fitz (producer/multi-instrumentalist) and Harry Day (drums). They garnered a bunch of attention last year with their single Edge of Town. That track, which appears as track two here, is essential.
It sounds powerful and immediate; Joy rattling off her lyrics with the urgency and dynamism of an artist that has been told she has three minutes to leave a mark (“hello radio, nice to meet you”). The music drives, ducks and explodes, escalating from section to section until it feels earned when Joy repeatedly strains “I got something on my mind”.
It’s high praise, but also a bit of backhanded complement that I am left wanting to know what exactly is on her mind. This conundrum is representative of the release as a whole.
The music is uniformly excellent. Your Love and Never Start demonstrate that Edge of Town was not a flash in the pan and that Middle Kids can repeat the trick to great effect. Fitz’s guitar playing and production are both inventive and interesting without ever taking the focus away from where it should be.
Day’s drumming is expressive, tasteful and key to the propulsive energy that is present in the EP’s best tracks. Joy’s voice and knowing delivery are critical; she imbues the songs with a great deal of personality and emotional range. She see-saws between a gentle, conversational style and an elevated, fluctuating emotional yelp.
The core elements that make up Middle Kids are impressive and their debut release succeeds largely because of them. The fact that they all fit together so seamlessly at times is surprising, for such a new band, and bodes well for their future.
It’s a real push and pull, lure and catch kind of performance that keeps the listener right there on the tight-rope; unsure which direction they are about to sway. It’s exhilarating. However, this is not to say that this release is flawless.
Fire In Your Eyes experiments with an unresolved feeling “nah nah nuh nah” section that distracts from an otherwise affecting pop song. Doing It Right wants desperately to be a poignant closing number about an existential crisis but leans too heavily on dreary lyric passages.
Its a song that sits in stark contrast to what the band do so well the rest of their debut EP; make everything sound as if it matters profoundly.
A specialist and contributor to all things musical, Alistair Cairns is the frontman to Sydney-based rock band Wells.