The very first time I heard “Edge Of Town”, I knew it was going to be marketed as an anthem for the emotionally fragile. The melancholy verse leading up to the confident chorus begged to be played at peak volume with the windows down. Surprisingly, the rest of the debut EP from Middle Kids showcased similar attributes. My anticipation for the full-length album Lost Friends was set and I could barely wait!
With the lead single “Mistake” and aforementioned “Edge Of Town”, Middle Kids are well on their way to becoming this generation’s Fleetwood Mac.
Like fellow Aussies Camp Cope, the songs of Middle Kids are fueled by the vulnerability. But where Camp Cope revels in the here-and-now of an emotional situation, Middle Kids sell a distinctive element of hopefulness. The lows are still there but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. For some, the battle of hope and reality is the deal breaker. Which side of the fence you stand will decide if Lost Friends delivers on the promises made by the EP. Do you want to relate or do you want to be inspired?
Vulnerability is something that can’t be faked. In order to sell emotion, you have to feel it and singer/guitarist Hannah Joy never fails. Not even once. She goes from soft and angelic to an anthemic powerhouse within the blink of an eye. Most importantly, I believe every single word. Elevating Joy’s vocals are the lush arrangements. The slick production may have plenty of layers and gloss but the emphasis stays on the chemistry of the band as a trio. Lost Friends is a group effort and their chemistry is of a band who’ve been together for decades.
With such vocal and songwriting integrity, you would think Lost Friends would rip your heart from your chest. But I’m not really sure if that’s the intention.
From the Springsteen-esque chorus of “Bought It” to the somber piano ballad “Hole”, Middle Kids play it completely safe. Maybe a bit too safe for my taste.
Don’t get me wrong, the hooks and big moments are satisfying, but there’s not much challenge in Lost Friends. Most of the album feels like a collection of ready-made singles for mainstream radio. That’s not a bad thing, but it makes the fragility feel a little calculated. Some of the best moments on Lost Friends seem to come out of left field. My favorite track “On My Knees” flirts with alt-country and somehow reminds me of the latest Taking Back Sunday album. That’s something I’d never expect from a band who at one time reminded me of Camp Cope.
Sadly, there aren’t many other surprises throughout the hefty runtime. Which brings me to my other complaint: The longer it goes, the more some of the emotion sounds contrived. Lost Friends is a front-loaded album with the similar sounding tracks pushed to the second half. Shaving off a few would go a long way to streamline the album as a whole. With that said, there really isn’t a stand-out track I’d cut. I may go as far as saying nixing the previously released songs (including “Edge Of Town”) wouldn’t have hurt in the grand scheme of things.
The lack of challenge is much easier to swallow when you take into account just how good Middle Kids are at playing to their strengths.
While not as raw or emotionally heavy as I anticipated, Lost Friends is a ready-made modern classic without the pitfalls of pretentiousness. Each song sticks to what works almost to a fault. Its crisp, clear, and focused in a way a debut record shouldn’t be. I almost wish there were a few missteps just so I can see how they fix them on the next record. After all, if Lost Friends proves anything, its the fact there will be a next record. With a debut like this, I have a feeling there will be plenty more.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.