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The Milk Carton Kids
Waltzing into disaster and its aftermath, The Milk Carton Kids' "All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn't Do" arrives from ANTI- Records on June 29.
The new project marks the first time that acoustic duo Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale have brought a band into the studio with them. "We wanted to do something new," Pattengale says. "We had been going around the country yet another time to do the duo show, going to the places we'd been before. There arose some sort of need for change."
"Musically we knew we were going to make the record with a bigger sonic palette," says Ryan. "It was liberating to know we wouldn't have to be able to carry every song with just our two guitars."
Since their last studio album, "Monterey" (ANTI- 2015), life has changed dramatically for The Milk Carton Kids. Pattengale has moved to, and is now producing records in Nashville. Ryan is now the father of two children and works as a producer on "Live from Here with Chris Thile," the reboot of "A Prairie Home Companion." A break from years of non-stop touring, Ryan says, has yielded "space outside of the band that gives us perspective on what the band is."
But it's not just the addition of the band here that creates something new. National politics left Ryan feeling disoriented and mournful. Pattengale's relationship of seven years ended, and he found himself unexpectedly needing surgery for cancer. (He is cancer-free now, and accidentally broke his cigarette habit in the process.)
Though they didn't approach the new album conceptually, a theme of shattered realities began to emerge out of the songs that sparked to life. Recent events provided a bruising background for the record, yet the project is somehow bigger than any personal grief. Two-part harmonies ride acoustic guitars high above the haunting landscape created by the presence of the band, as if Americana went searching for a lost America.
The Barr Brothers
To begin their third album, The Barr Brothers weren't writing any songs. For the first time, the Montreal outfit's three members - namesake siblings Brad and Andrew Barr, harpist Sarah Pagé - went empty-handed into the studio. No plans or preconceptions, no books of lyrics or sheets of chords - they went down miles of snowy road to a cabin on a frozen lake, a place full of windows and microphones and starlight and sunshine, with amplifiers in the bedrooms, their volumes turned up loud. On the fringes of Saint Zenon, Québec (pop. 11,150), a 30-minute snowmobile ride to the nearest grocery store, the band spent seven days making things up. Improvisations that lasted hours at a time - noons and midnights, dusks and dawns, with grooves inspired by India, West Africa and 808s; by Brad's scorching electric guitar; and by Pagé's new inventions, hacks to turn her harp into a versatile, sub-bass-booming noisemaker. Queens of the Breakers was born at that cabin in the country. Then the band took that racket and distilled it into songs: 11 tracks of blazing courage and failing resolve; suffused with groove, melody and the Barr Brothers' wide-open sense of the blues. At times the sound's all twinkling, the score for a lost John Hughes film; at other times it's whetted, searching, like the stuff of Lhasa de Sela or Led Zeppelin's III. These are tales of teenagers prowling through Rhode Island mansions (the title track), coming to Montreal and falling in love ("Song That I Heard"), tattered patriotism and clenching fists ("Kompromat", "Ready for War"). There's also "Defibrillation", a mournful letter from a father to his son, inspired by the broken rhythm of a pair of hospital heart monitors - and a drumbeat based on that dither. It's this tension, this dither, that lives at the centre of Queens of the Breakers. Three players - friends, comrades, music-makers, all of them trying to play in sync. Three bandmates - each of them fumbling, remembering, trying to invent something together. A band still playing, even occasionally reimagining, their rock'n'roll.