There’s really no such thing as an overnight success. Even this fresh new album from Middle Kids couldn’t get out before an official endorsement from Elton John on his Beats 1 show. Freshman outings conceal years of hard work – and several solo outings and one EP down the line, Middle Kids’ debut retains its own sense of identity, its energy and maturity proper demanding that you take notice. When, over open-hearted alt-country worthy of Lera Lynn, they namecheck ‘Maryland’, it could equally be an East Coast USA reference or one to their native Australia, and the record turns out to balance universal appeal with hooky, visceral personality. When in the Elton-approved track ‘Edge of Town’ amazing lead vocalist Hannah Joy takes an already inventive melody and makes it stratospheric, you don’t just appreciate her musicality; the band works as a unit, chugging guitars and drums increasing tempo around her to elevate the song. It’s not the only passage of adrenalized glee on this LP.
As fuzz, distortion and stacked harmonies recur, you can tell Middle Kids are throwing everything into their debut. Arrangements sometimes switch gear in service of a song (as in ‘Mistake’ when Fleetwood Mac seem to descend on clouds from heaven) – but occasionally you get the sense of an overpainted canvas. I love that the closing track eschews a gentle wind-down for the kind of epic military snare rolls that (if you’re honest) you thrilled to when the Mumfords first appeared. But is that a harpsichord? Why is the harpsichord there? Such a full-throttle approach makes stripped-back moments seem all the more powerful, though – like when the extremely excitable ‘On My Knees’ dissolves into a quiet, glorious demo of itself, like a partygoer stopping to consider themselves in the mirror at 3am. ‘Don’t Be Hiding’ is a plea for a lover to be emotionally naked, all the more convincing coming from an unashamedly flawed protagonist.
Behind the carpe diem approach and her youthful Chrissie Hynde tone (sometimes with a tincture of Angel Olsen, or turning crystalline while tracing sculpted melodies reminiscent of Nina Persson), Joy’s songwriting seems (a) emotionally healthy, and (b) to somehow make that sound utterly exciting. If this sounds too virtuous to be cool anymore, screw it – there’s life here, and there are enough records and careers in which that’s notably absent. So just give Lost Friends a listen before friends tell you to check out this hot new band from Sydney.