The Milk Carton Kids - All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn't Do
The Milk Carton Kids
All the Things That I Did and All the Things I Didn't Do
Somewhere between the slow southern burn of Willie Nelson and the choral harmonies of Simon And Garfunkel sits the California duo called The Milk Carton Kids. An outfit entirely in the new millennium, but more stitched into the fabric of the 60’s Greenwich Village revival folk-scene. Their impressive use of two human voices has allowed them to find quick success, but it is their knack for writing poignant lyrics of love and loss paired with emotion-painted guitar chords that have cemented their style as more than novelty: real art. Not to be misunderstood as a niche sound, TMCKs aim for commercial country with traditional song structure and Nashville production, falling short only by way of self-imposed limitations.
It is with their new album, All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do, where they begin to stretch, abandoning their strict aesthetic to include some new sounds: drums, bass, keys. Listen to the vibraphone on closing track “All The Things…”, the way it supports Joey Ryan’s attack on your heart with a tale of a relationship in decline. An old marriage, autobiographical by accounts, the set scene built on quick moving chords, descending root notes that affect you to imagine years of emotion on the human face. It's similar to the standout “Younger Years”, which displays TMCKs talent for blending dark and light, desolation and hope. Ryan and cohort Kenneth Pattengale could be the modern Mask of the Greek Muses.
Necessarily political (aren’t we all these days?) on “Mourning In America”, TMCKs wrote the Trump-Era response to Neil Diamond’s “America”, having progressed to care more, we’re fed up with empathy and regress to apathy. They capture the morning after feeling of uncertainty magically, transporting us with a piano and strings to a world that’s alien. The dagger is the realization it’s still our home; defiled, but still ours to maintain, Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” in song form.
Great sounds: the moonshine swirl of “Blindness” (reminiscent of Grizzly Bear’s “Marla”), James Taylor finger-picked young man against the odd’s fair “A Sea Of Roses” and the island slide guitar with cowboy troubadour-isms of “I’ve Been Loving”, are all beautifully sonic choices that help the case that this is the group’s “departure” album. What hurts this claim is the unfulfilling opener “Just Look At Us Now” (a lovely song that merely feels like it should build better) and the overtly long “One More For The Road”, which carries on for 10 minutes trying to sell a version of minimalism that boils down to rhythm guitar/ lead guitar, completely wasting the band concept this duo was attempting. I can’t help but imagine a greener pasture where Neil Young tackles this one with his Crazy Horses.
A true folk duo in 2018 is debatably needed, at the very least an interesting contrast to the big loud stomp of Mumford and Sons and their innumerable progeny. Rightly appreciated, The Milk Carton Kids are highly musical songbirds that utilize a harmonic singing style which runs completely counter to the anti-tune wave of pitch corrected, first-take to print vocal riffing that currently rules the charts. TMCKs is composed music, effort to excellence, inimitable by most. Spare some transparent influences and a sometimes underutilized band, All the Things That I Did is a worthwhile listen for fans of the genre and strangers who want to meditate on a softer sound.