Middle Brother-Self Titled LP
An unfortunate recent trend in the NBA has been for fellow buddies/superstars to join forces and create “superteams”. Made popular last summer by LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining friend Dwyane Wade in Miami, the idea has been taken further by Carmelo Anthony ditching Denver for New York to play alongside friend, Amar’e Stoudemire. While the practice in sports rings sour for many fans, it is much more appealing in the music world where listeners can revel in the magic that is often created when talented and creative forces blend together.
Taking the basketball analogy further, Jim James, Conor Oberst, and M. Ward’s Monsters of Folk outfit is the varsity version of a superteam, taking their eclectic mix of country-folk rock blends around the world to headlining gigs at swank theaters and buzzed-about festivals. Plugging away on the side court however, is the JV team, Middle Brother, composed of three like-minded singer-songwriters: Deer Tick’s John McCauley, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, and Delta Spirit’s Matthew Vasquez. Although not exactly household names, these three are no strangers to acclaim, as each of their respective outfits’ work ranks equal to or above those of the more recognizable Monsters. And such is the case here, on Middle Brother’s gorgeously lonely self-titled debut collaboration. Playing off the common strengths of each individual member, the album jaunts along, alternating between heartfelt emotional odes to despair and desolation (McCauley’s pining for unrequited love on opener “Daydreaming”, Goldsmith’s honest self-introspection on “Wilderness”, and Vasquez’s declaration of perseverance against constant disappointment on “Theater”), and snappy up-tempo assertions of purpose (see Vasquez’s twangy gem, “Blue Eyes” and the rousing group sing-alongs of the band’s namesake “Middle Brother” and “Me, Me, Me”). Best of all is the album closing (discounting the tacked-on bonus track), “Million Dollar Bill”. Here, the three bandmates disconsolately lament the loss of their lovers, trading verses of resignation and making plans to rebound from the heartbreak. Grand and healthy tactics, although the thought of their former paramours aren’t far from their minds: “When it hits me that she’s gone/I think I’ll be an astronaut/Make the moon my home and leave the Earth behind/So that when she steps out into the night/And finds the light that makes her prettiest/She’ll be facing me every time she shines”. Devastating and gut-wrenching, this song gets to the essence of loneliness; summarizing the pathos, but enveloping it in shades of the bizarre and arcane.
When in misery, we can all lose touch with reality and find solace in the most unintelligible of thoughts. The desire to still resonate with an old flame is strong and overwhelming, so like Goldsmith, McCauley, and Vasquez hypothesize, why not explore space, run for president, or become a rich and famous movie star? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched when the nights are cold, the bottle is full, and the house is empty. However, one can hopefully always take solace in friends. Middle Brother proves this axiom true and makes a gem of an album in the process.