The first sunny, warm day of the year always brings with it the itch for long golden hour drives down the coast with the perfect playlist. Middle Kids’ surf-rock anthems featured heavily on my 2018 “Windows Down, Speakers Busted” playlist after the May release of their debut album Lost Friends, and I had high hopes that Today We’re The Greatest would serve a similar purpose.
Middle Kids took the pop-rock world by storm in 2018 with the release Lost Friends which peaked at number 10 on the ARIA charts. The Australian three-piece, made up of Hannah Joy (vocals and guitar), Tim Fitz (multi-instrumentalist), and Harry Day (drums) have been featured as openers for Bloc Party, War on Drugs, and Cold War Kids with plans to headline their own small tour of Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney this May.
Today We’re The Greatest was produced in Los Angeles by Lars Stalfors, who has worked with revered eclectic artists like St. Vincent and Soccer Mummy, and written by lead vocalist Joy. The album is a vulnerable exploration of the complex nature of longstanding relationships and the guts it takes to choose love. Joy’s frustrations with herself and her intimate relationships contrast well with Middle Kids’ sunny and upbeat tracks to showcase the coexistence of love’s benefits and shortcomings.
Fans of the guitar-heavy tracks on Lost Friends that earned the band comparisons to Arcade Fire may be disappointed by the mellow Kacy Musgraves-esque tracks that feature heavily on Today We’re The Greatest. Opener Bad Neighbors strikes a distinctly melancholic country tone as Joy struggles with the self-imprisonment of her own mind to soft, stripped-down guitar. Lost In Los Angeles and Golden Star follow Bad Neighbors in tempo and mood. Both explore the heartbreak of all-consuming unbalanced love, culminating with layered harmonies and ethereal electronic tones. The former is by far one of Joy’s greatest lyrical accomplishments on the album and my personal favorite. The latter is more instrumentally creative, mixing guitar with tropical electronic riffs, climaxing in a gorgeous choral harmony that fades into rain and quiet bird calls.
But Today We’re The Greatest isn’t without the self-deprecating upbeat windows-down tracks that earned Middle Kids a permanent spot in my queue on hot summer days. The first single off the album, released in October, R U 4 Me? is a get-on-your-feet crowd-pleaser that I’m dying to see live. It’s as lively as American Author’s Best Day of My Life with none of the blind optimism. Lyrics absolutely brimming with relatable insecurity compliment a raucous brass and guitar rhythm that culminate in a mosh-pit-inducing instrumental climax.
Summer Hill, Some People Stay in Our Hearts Forever, and Run With Me are the connective tissue of this album. In Summer Hill and Run With Me Joy declares her devotion to her relationship, and in the case of Run With Me, her first child with husband and bandmate Fitz. These tracks strike a balance between the angsty teenage “f*ck it” I Don’t Care (my favorite on this album) and the soft vulnerability that dominates the first half of Today We’re The Greatest.
Joy concludes her lyrical struggle with an assertion of loyalty in Stacking Chairs and title track Today We’re The Greatest. It would be remiss to say that Middle Kids didn’t achieve what they set out to do with their sophomore album. Lyrically, this album is far more literal in its vulnerability than their previous efforts and fully dedicates itself to exploring the duality of love. Despite this, I found Today We’re The Greatest far less creatively satisfying than Lost Friends. The repetitive topical nature and formulaic approach to the more upbeat tracks (a slow rhythmic build eventually ending in a repetitive chorus and instrumental break) left me craving more and wishing for the noisy excess of their debut album.
Middle Kids is still a young band absolutely bursting with talent, and there’s still plenty of time to find the sweet spot between the abstract creativity of Lost Friends and the emotional maturity of Today We’re The Greatest. When they find it, they’ll truly be unstoppable.