Middle Kids–“Real Thing, from New Songs for Old Problems (2019)

“Real Thing” is the super-hooky single from the latest EP by Australian band Middle Kids. Released a couple of months in advance of New Songs for Old Problems, “Real Thing” grabs attention with lead singer Hannah Day’s gorgeously stretched vowels on longing choruses that rise up from uneasy verses.

The melodies are supported by the guitars of Day herself and lead guitarist/bassist Tim Fitz, in a perennial rock style that fits into the channel of what is broadly called “alternative” or “indie.” The grungy chorus will certainly bring 90s associations for many.

One of the most interesting features in Middle Kids’s guitar chemistry is Day and Fitz’s rhythm guitar blend. Day, who is left-handed, plays a right-handed guitar, strung standard, with the low strings toward the floor (like fellow lefties Eric Gales and Doyle Bramhall II, and not like other fellow lefty Jimi Hendrix, who restrung righty guitars with the high strings toward the floor). One example of their blend occurs as the band approaches the first verse. Fitz maintains the intro riff, using a tone that has a lot of high-end rolled off and is colored with rhythmic tremolo and delay effects, while Day enters with a cleaner, brighter, reverb-enhanced tone. The combination creates tension, I think, not just with the tonal contrasts but with differences in picking direction. Something similar seems to happen on the grungy guitar-heavy chorus, which is thickened with distorted bass guitar.

Also well worth attention is Fitz’s lead guitar approach. While there isn’t a distinct guitar solo, there is lot of counter-melody content complementing Day’s vocals. The lead guitar lines under the chorus bring to mind a tougher-sounding string section. In the climactic C section that precedes the breakdown before the last chorus, unison B notes prepares the vocal melody’s rise of a major sixth, from B to G# (the chords move from B to Amaj7). The slight warble of the unison Bs reflects the doubt expressed in the lyrics.

Especially in the denser, grungier sections, it can be hard to pull apart all the layers. There are moments at which I think I hear hints of parts played with the heavily effected intro tone. “Real Thing” sounds like it was made with greater care for the whole than for always-distinguishable parts. It’s a song that would fully stand without the layers of electric guitars but expands and deepens, drawing the listener further into the longing, with their color and weight.

Extra thoughts:

● To be honest, I don’t love the official video nearly as much as I love the song itself, so here’s a live version of “Real Thing” from Middle Kids’s June 2019 gig at Brooklyn Steel, located, of course, in Brooklyn, NY.

● I first heard “Real Thing” on WFUV, the New York City radio station based out of Fordham University, in the Bronx. It’s a great sounding radio song. WFUV is one of the best terrestrial radio stations in the greater NYC area and is an essential commuting companion. Even if you’re not in New York, you can listen here.

● The whole New Songs for Old Problems EP is excellent!

©2019 Guitarete/Alan Barry

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