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Middle Kids

Today We’re the Greatest


Mar 18, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The world feels like a particularly harsh place the past several years and already 2021 is not shaping up to be much better. But in days like this, a little optimism can go a long way. Australian indie rockers Middle Kids brought hints of that optimism in their debut album, 2018’s Lost Friends, but the main focus for the band was on barrelling festival-sized rock tracks and portraits of stumbling emotional struggles. Their larger-than-life sound got them some early love from Elton John, sparking the band’s meteoric rise, but by-the-numbers songwriting held back their debut from realizing the band’s full potential. With their follow-up record, Today We’re the Greatest, Middle Kids go more personal, bringing an unexpected intimate touch and expanded emotional range to their indie rock sound.

Frontwoman Hannah Joy says she wants “to make music that loves its listener. Music that makes people feel seen, seen in the tiny little places that hide away in their hearts.” That impulse is on display from the opening moments of Today We’re the Greatest. Joy opens “Bad Neighbours” singing “Hope is an underrated word/That I heard when I was younger/Before the anger/Now the pain is like a rope/Round my hands you’d understand/If you’ve been hurt like I was.” Already the record has gone to a raw place, ringing true with the naked honesty of confession. The music is equally vulnerable, with a slow-burning acoustic feel, but with some added string accents to bringing an additional sense of drama.

The band subtly expands their instrumental palette and songwriting chops, bringing in some of the variety that was missing on Lost Friends. Touches such as the brass-laden climax of “Questions” and beachy pedal steel on “Golden Star” ensure each song has a distinct identity, with a few much-needed changes in tempo and delivery across the tracklist. Moreover, the band’s attempts to break out from radio-friendly indie ragers go over well here. “Lost in Los Angeles” is the best plaintive ballad the band has delivered yet, giving the chance for Joy to show the raw emotive power of her swelling melodies. Even the less distinct tracks, such as “Some People Stay in Our Hearts Forever,” are carried by Joy’s reliably impassioned vocals and the band’s knack for unreasonably catchy hooks.

Despite the more varied tracklist, Middle Kids’ best moments continue to come from soaring sing-along melodies and full-throttle glossy indie rock. The record front-loads the big singles, barreling out the gate one after another following “Bad Neighbours.” “Cellophane (Brain),” “R U 4 Me?,” and “Questions” all rush through explosive anthemic choruses and plucky upbeat hooks, getting the record’s big crowd-pleasing moments out of the way before the band explores newer territory. But the band also returns to the sound later in the tracklist, especially with “I Don’t Care.” The track’s carefree abandonment, fiery guitar solo, and shout-along hooks make for a perfectly timed shot of wild energy in the tracklist. If it were not for the expletive-laden chorus this would be the record’s unquestioned radio-ready single. It’s easy to throw complaints of originality or authenticity the band’s way, but these moments make it all feel like nit-picking. There is always going to be a place for this sort of wide-eyed dynamic pop rock, and at their best Middle Kids do it as well as any other.

The band ends the record in top form with a lighters-up stadium-ready ballad, title track “Today We’re the Greatest.” Their mission of empathy and love shines best in these closing moments as Joy sings, “Someday we’ll be gone/But today we’re the greatest/Even though we feel so small.” This is what Middle Kids do best. Big songs about big emotions. While the record may lag somewhat in the middle section, the band is closer than ever to honing their indie rock style to a razor’s edge, improving in most every aspect over their debut. Most importantly, this type of unabashedly hopeful music has a special power lately, finding small beauties in the hard times. While the future holds no guarantees, Middle Kids largely deliver on their early promise with Today We’re the Greatest. (www.middlekidsmusic.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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