EDITOR’S NOTE: As album releases slow down in December, we like to catch our breath and write about albums that came out earlier in the year that we didn’t get a chance to review but we think are worthy of your attention. That Kind of Life was released in May.
There’s a lingering sense, after That Kind of Life has played through, that Michigan Rattlers are taking the necessary steps for a long journey forward.
Three years after they released Evergreen as an acoustic-based trio, Michigan Rattlers returned earlier this year as an electric-leaning quartet. They’d honed their chops and generated chemistry touring the country with their impressive brand of heavy-hearted heartland rock. That Kind of Life documents the changes, and the songs are all the better for it.
It’s not that Graham Young and the rest of the Rattlers have abandoned their alt-country roots. The eight songs on That Kind of Life rest on the sort of firm melodic structures that suggest organic origins. However, the Rattlers have added appreciable muscle since we last heard them, especially on tracks like “Sleep in It” and “Like a Kid.”
What sets this album apart from other heartland offerings in 2021 is just how considered these compositions feel. Musically, the set sits at an ideal intersection of Dawes and David Ramirez with a pinch of Augustana and a slight dash of Springsteen. But just as the entire album is comprised of only eight songs, each track itself feels restrained and spacious. Nothing here is forced.
“The Storm” is the perfect example, an arresting opener for all that it’s not. It’s a gradual ease forward, a call-to-attention in the same way a teacher might whisper instructions in front of an unruly classroom instead of yelling. The mid-tempo piano number is a simple yet beautiful tune and smartly sets the tone for an album filled with such thoughtful choices.
The title track is another buoyant piano-driven number that reflects on the “kind of life” we thought we’d chart for ourselves versus the one we’ve experienced. “Like a Kid,” the album’s centerpiece, begins with a sparse deliberate snare and guitar line before flexing with a stellar chorus that should be a live favorite.
There’s no way to know how things might turn out for Michigan Rattlers down the road, but the musical maturity demonstrated on That Kind of Life is a strong sign that this is going to be an expansive catalog in the end.