It may seem quite hard to believe, but there are musicians out there still gearing up to release music that was completed PRE-covid. Yeah, you read that right—while it’s easy to see that some of 2020’s best music was born out of quarantine, made bicoastally via Zoom sessions and phone calls, there are still a plethora of artists who were finalizing their own stuff, pre-global pandemic, waiting patiently for its release during the (hopeful) slow return to normalcy.
Sydney-based indie-rock trio Middle Kids (comprised of singer Hannah Joy, guitarist Tim Fritz, and drummer Harry Day) were in that pre-covid boat, putting the finishing touches on their sophomore album Today We’re The Greatest back in November 2019, just a few months prior to the mayhem that would soon become our new normal. Thanks to lockdown, the band was able to take their sweet time mixing the album, which officially drops tomorrow. Today We’re the Greatest is the band’s follow up to their critically acclaimed, 2018 debut album Lost Friends—one that helped the band land on massive tours with artists like The War on Drugs and Local Natives, slots at festivals like Lollapalooza, and a slew of late night performances.
Today We’re the Greatest was recorded in Los Angeles with the help of producer Lars Stalfors (well-known for his work with St. Vincent and Soccer Mommy, to name a couple). Lost Friends was written during months of touring, throughout moments of rare off time, and Today We’re the Greatest was written with more direct energy and intention, during a time of solace away from live shows. It was also written during Joy’s pregnancy with her first child (the father is bandmate/guitarist Tim Fritz).
The subject matter on TWTG is a new take from lead singer/songwriter Hannah Joy, moving away from conceptual ideas and more from personal experience, exploring the beauty in the mundane.
“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 move from tackling broader topics into a more intimate songwriting experience works well for the band, a concept that we could all benefit to learn from when it comes to the scope of how we exist in our day-to-day lives: to romanticize what is in front of us instead of yearning for something unseen and out of reach.
The album opens with the line “Hope is an underrated word,” and it’s one that we’ve arguably been grappling with as a human race for the past year at this point. “Bad Neighbours” is an opening track for the ages, one that we’d hear playing in the background during the biggest of cinematic moments in a coming-of-age movie, during a sunset, the main character looking out the window having an existential crisis. The moment of feeling free, but simultaneously being unable to fully grasp the weight of the world and what it means to be alive. Yes, I got all of that from one song.
Like I hinted prior, Today We’re The Greatest focuses more on the personal experiences of Joy’s: the nuisances of everyday life: like “looking up star signs” and “eating apples on the train.”
The lead single for the album, “R U For Me,” was released in October 2020. It makes the most sense that the band chose this track to lead their sophomore project with: it encapsulates the energy of the entire album. If I had to pick which track hit me the hardest, it’s “R U For Me” by a pretty long shot. The problems that we create in our head that cause us to worry that everyone is out to get us often manifests unnecessary anxiety and ultimately, a problem that didn’t exist before we started to panic about it. As someone who is constantly wanting to do the “right” thing and be seen in the “right” way, I certainly related to this track. The manic production along, quickly-changing tempo, and screams/ad-libs sprinkled through the track perfectly exemplify the mood of the lyrics.
“My friends and family / We’re all in therapy sayin’ / Do not ignore me / Are you for me or against me? / Hold yourself against me / Can anyone hear this? / I feel so far from the people / Who are nearest”
If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned love song, Middle Kids have that for you, too. “Stacking Chairs” (with an introduction sonically similar to the band’s breakout hit, “Edge of Town,”) is a song inspired by Hannah’s journey grappling with her idea of love and marriage and how it changed once she had it right in front of her. The sentiment and the lyrics ring similar to a superstar by the name of Taylor Swift’s “New Year’s Day.”
The album closes with the title track, one that sounds more like a goodbye to the COVID times more than anything I’ve heard in recent memory. Someday, this will all be over, and we’ll be looking at the moments in our lives that we wish were over, and look back (hopefully) with acceptance and closure on what we can no longer change.
Overall, the album stays in the indie rock genre, but moments venture into the country/folk space, and “Some People Stay In Our Hearts Forever” is a song written so well, Kacey Musgraves would envy it. Though similar to Middle Kids’ previous work, Today We’re The Greatest is a more cohesive sound with further explored ideas, lyrically and sonically.
I could go on for hours pointing out the details woven through Today We’re The Greatest that do a fantastic job emulating the mundane moments of the human existence: but then why would you even want to listen
Today We’re The Greatest drops tomorrow.