There is a beautiful tension the work of Sydney trio Middle Kids. Songs that detail childhood trauma, wayward ways and personal angst are delivered in the most shining and sparkling coat of many colours. Even at their darkest, though, the lyrics can exhibit a wry sense of humour; a sense of resignation and acceptance and even perhaps of resolution.
The title – ‘Today We’re The Greatest’ – even reflects this apparent ambiguity, capturing the qualified nature of the music and perhaps recognising the transience of life – all things, whether good or bad, must pass. A resultant self-deprecatory undertone pervades throughout the album.
Singer/songwriter Hannah Joy says of the album that the themes reflect a more personal perspective:
Historically I’ve written a lot of conceptual lyrics. Stepping into this album, I wanted to allow myself to go and write and not feel like I had any barriers to do so. I’m interested in finding the best music I can, but if I’m not willing to put skin in the game, then I’m not actually free.
The songs as a collection of indelible melodies and lush instrumentation are perfect pop vignettes that have an added lustre due to the golden velvet vocals of Joy – exhibiting an extraordinary range that whispers and cajoles at times and roars with pain and passion.
The opening track, ‘Bad Neighbours’ details with a starkness with the theme of unhappy childhood memories and the tone is a reflective and sombre start. Most of Middle Kids lyrics are written by Joy but in this track the lyrics were written by guitarist Tom Fitz about an incident in Joy’s childhood. Joy says of Fitz’s words:
It was like he was giving me permission to go there, and he also [gave] actual speech to feeling, which I think was very profound for me.
Second track, ‘Cellophane (Brain)’ ups the pace but not without the air of melancholy. In social media. Joy jokes of this track:
…sometimes I picture my noisy brain as a crinkly bit of coloured cellophane. Not sure what Jung would say about that but I think it just means I don’t have a good grip on human anatomy.
The track is another personal reflection on life’s fears and anxieties with a slicing, buzzing guitar.
‘RU4M’ has a Strokes-like velocity with its melody and sense of irreverent humour: arch and full of attitude:
In the single, ‘Questions’, Joy’s voice is delicious – a thread of melancholia runs through it as it glides over a percussive clatter and a bubbling, driving rhythm that picks up speed. The culmination in a horn based riff is exquisite – a perfect pop song conclusion that is energising and ebullient.
This is enticing and pulse-quickening indie pop at its best.
Of the song’s themes, Joy says:
Questions is about the fallacies of intimate relationships. I used to drink a lot and most of my previous relationships revolved around this. I don’t think I ever really knew them or they me as a result. ‘Questions’ is about people being around each other but not being close. People who are in intimate relationships can stop asking questions of each other because they are uncomfortable and confusing.
The video is utterly charming – a sense of naivety and innocent joy:
‘Stacking Chairs’, coming as it does as the penultimate song in the album, is a reflection of the redemptive nature of the journey the album takes us on: it is a love song cast in the simple of motifs. Joy says:
A few years ago, I would’ve been like, ‘I can’t write a love song!’ I think it’s because love was still too tinny, too shallow for me to actually understand where I was at personally. ‘Stacking Chairs’ is a great example of that: I’m understanding love more, and I’m still a tiny, stupid idiot. But I’m going, ‘That’s something worth fighting for, and something worth celebrating, too!’
The album leaves us with the title track – the world is a silent place where talking never stops – an anthemic and poised final note about seizing the day and treasuring each moment:
For Joy, making music is a personal quest:
I want 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. I want people to hear our music, and feel a sense of love. And when I say love, it can be challenging, intense and tough. But it’s in the guts.
‘Today We’re The Greatest’ is a beautiful colourful tapestry woven with the finest vocals and the most expressive lyrics. It stands as a complete whole – to be listened to in one immersive hit and savoured as a beautiful representation of the vicissitudes of life.
Feature Photograph: Ellen Virgona