You would be hard pressed to find a harder-working band out there than Middle Kids. The band, comprised of vocalist/guitarist Hannah Joy, bassist/producer Tim Fitz, and drummer Harry Day shine throughout this collection of songs that find them at their most confident. Today We’re The Greatest feels more like a badge of honor or a playful mantra for the band to acknowledge that they are at the top of their game, and are still having a blast dedicating their talents to their craft. Coming off of a stellar debut in Lost Friends, and an EP of New Songs For Old Problems to tide their fans over in the meantime, Middle Kids had a lot of momentum breaking in just the right way for their proper sophomore follow-up record. These 12 songs are deeply authentic, personal, and only further showcase the courage the band has in stepping into the role of a breakthrough artist.
The album opens cautiously with two slow-burning songs in the form of “Bad Neighbours” and “Cellophane (Brain),” with the former being primarily composed on an acoustic guitar. Joy’s vocals are top-notch as usual, and she effortlessly floats her words above her backing band and a beautifully orchestrated string arrangement. Joy admits on the chorus, “Just when I’m breaking free / I can’t quite hold it all together / Just when I’m breaking free / I can’t quite hold it all,” and her vocals are eerily reminiscent to another breakthrough artist by the name of Maggie Rogers. Both of these now-established singers, comparisons aside, are as confident as they come, even if their lyrics showcase their vulnerability. “Cellophane” relies more on some sampled sounds to go over the electric guitar strums of Joy’s guitar, and even features some distorted riffs to fill the space between each of the verses. The lyrics turn deeply personal as Joy sings, “Nothing more sad than a man who cries / In his car in the driveway / Blue helium light blinking again,” and she paints a picture of conflict in her improved songwriting.
Things speed up significantly on the recently released single, “R U 4 Me?” which ended up being my favorite in this set of memorable songs filled with so much depth. The pick-me-up beat courtesy of Harry Day allows for his bandmates to carry the momentum found from the up-tempo song to make for one of their best tracks to date. Right after Joy warns, “Do not ignore me / Are you for me or against me? / Hold yourself against me / Can anyone hear this? / I feel so far from the people / Who are nearest,” she bursts out in laughter before the best guitar solo of her career. It’s one of those moments that you can’t help but smile looking back on a band that is figuring out how to shine in the brightest of ways in their music.
”Questions” was the first track to be released as an official single from the album, and it’s hard to argue with their label’s logic on this one. The song is filled with horns, brilliant musicianship and star-studded production that gives off a Decemberists’ vibe. This is one of those songs that demands to be blasted out on your turntable with the best set-up possible, or at the very least, a decent set of stereo headphones to feel the full intended effect of the track.
”Lost in Los Angeles” brings the tempo back down briefly, but it never loses its luster or lacks interesting moments. Joy’s captivating lyrics of “Should I go back / Or leave you hanging in the corner / With your old grey bag? / I’m doing it again / My heart is wasting away, and I got no plan / Proud mouth, you fucked it now / I thought you’d follow the sound,” that teeters on the verge of a Country ballad. The song features as much banjo as it does electric guitar, but the fact that this three person band can sound so full only speaks to their credit as songwriters. The subsequent track in “Golden Star” is similar to the style of the opening two tracks, as it gradually builds its momentum as the song unfolds. I really enjoyed the lyrics of “You are the sweeping tide / Wash away the stuff that doesn’t come to life / You rise when you like / Never when I think and only when it’s right,” that may be written about her experience about becoming a mother for the first time.
The back half opens with the vibrant “Summer Hill” that has a great, pulsating bass line from Fitz throughout. The nice build-up in the pre-chorus of “How many chances / To reconcile / Hold me ransom to the faces / All the people and the places / Across the line,” allows for the band to explode into indie-rock bliss with a full-sounding chorus. “Some People Stay In Our Hearts Forever” follows the great song with more vulnerable and deeply personal lyrics from Joy. She sings of a person that held her up through a tough time she describes in the second verse, “I sit and look at the pictures we took that day / Underneath the old oak tree drinking eight-dollar rosé / We weren’t healthy, but weren’t aware / Drugs kinda helped me, but I was barely there.” She later apologizes to this person who she feels she has let down, but still appreciates the fact they are still in her life.
Another standout song in a long line of great tracks comes in the form of the care-free “I Don’t Care.” The amped-up track demands to be played in a crowded club as the audience sings back, “I don’t fucking care, I gotta do what I want to!” They wear these lyrics as a badge of honor in this song and beyond, as their attitude towards their music comes across as them making the sounds that they want to regardless of who is there to accept them. With songs like this, it wouldn’t be without the realm of possibilities of seeing Middle Kids’ popularity sky-rocket on this release.
The set of songs eventually comes to a sad closing on the title track, only for the fact that I was enjoying this album so much that I never wanted it to end. The piano-based ballad opens slowly and the lyrics relate to the fact that we are all human and we only have a finite amount of time to make our mark on this world. Joy sings on the second verse, “I’ll write you a note / Slip it into your coat for you / To find when you go to pay / I’ll still be your fan / It’s just that the timing’s off / And nothing goes to plan,” and it becomes evident that even if she realizes the mortality of the situation, she can’t help but want to leave some sort of legacy. The songs drifts off with the lyric of “Life is gory and boring sometimes,” and in a lot of ways its easy to the contrast between the two statements. Life is not a “one size fits all” concept, and Middle Kids realize this point by honing in on the human element of what makes music so fun. Through their deep connections to their craft as well as to each other, this band may have just made my favorite album of the year.