Milk Carton Kids
All the Things I Did and All the Things I Didn’t Do
An Exciting Turning Point in A Thoroughly Modern Musical Journey.
This is definitely The Milk Carton Kid’s edgiest album, while also being their most accessible. How does someone even attempt to pull that sort of thing off?
After first listening to this newest one, I went back and gave a re-listen to their previous albums in order to remind myself just how different this new one really is. Those earlier albums by the duo of Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale all featured well-written, thoughtful songs, impeccably picked acoustic guitars, on the point, tight harmonies, clear production, and straight-forward arrangements. So what’s their latest album—the long and wonderfully titled, All the Things I Did and All the Things I Didn’t Do—like?
Well let’s see: We get plenty of well-written, thoughtful songs, impeccably picked acoustic guitars, on the point, tight harmonies, clear production, and straight-forward arrangements of course; but there’s something else too.
After successfully self-producing their earlier albums, TMCK decided to do the unexpected and bring in singer-songwriter Joe Henry to refocus their thinking. A very wise move in my opinion.
The vocals now have a bit more separation in them, the guitars actually jump out of the speakers much more than they did previously, with more detail and focus. No subtle simplicities here. And yes, there’s drums, there’s keyboards, there’s bass guitar, pedal steel, and much more for the first time on a TMCK album.
Another thing that I noticed right away is how much Rock ‘n’ Roll there is in these songs too. And I’m not just referring to the excellent production but rather the songs themselves. I could pull out that oft-overused term “edgy” to describe these songs and I wouldn’t be wrong, but we need instead a term which imparts to us a deeper and more relevant meaning towards our understanding of this collection of songs.
These songs ‘move’, they ‘jump’, there’s even an intensity here that’s not just hyper-bluegrass or even upbeat country-folk. I know that TMCK think of themselves as folkies (or even anti-folkies) but deep down, this is Rock ‘n’ Roll, people. It definitely ain’t jazz. And those harmonies? Now they’re much closer to the Rock ‘n’ Roll of the Everly Brothers than the folk side of Simon and Garfunkel.
It’s nice and somewhat thrilling to hear the guys hoot and holler in “Big Time,” to hear those guitar runs on the solo section of the ten-minute “One More for the Road,” which goes to unexpected places without losing its thread, the fearless octave-shifting vocal on “You Break My Heart,” the nimble and stirring piano on “Nothing is Real,” the dark, mournful, and dizzying “Blindness.”
We get more of Ryan and Pattengale stretching out on these tunes, taking chances, paving new roads for themselves. This is what rock ‘n’ roll did in the early days, what it is supposed to do even now, but disappoints too often.
There’s layers of meaning in these songs, especially on the album’s centerpiece, “One More for the Road,” with its hypnotic stanzas and intertwining chromatic guitar solo which builds to a furious stomp before the tempo changes like a driver downshifting as he pulls off the interstate, perhaps to hit just one more bar before getting home.
Or—is he really trying to make it home?
Or is he attempting to delay the inevitable?
The lyrics leave it ambiguous but the darkness in those harmonies make me think the driver knows he’ll never making it home, he’ll be driving forever, trapped in a David Lynch film, a life of nighttime turnpikes and bars with greasy wooden walls and red neon and half-heard whispers. When that mesmerizing solo starts up you know you’re in for a ride, strapped tight, holding on, the trees like ghosts as they fly on past, speeding up and driving blind, white line fever is real and you’re okay with it. There are few signs on this road, just drizzling rain and darkened street lamps.
The song “Mourning in America,” with those dreamy harmonies and call and response guitar lines would have been my choice for the first single off this album, yet I’m glad they decided to release “One More for the Road” instead. Sometimes bands make an album that’s a turning point in their musical journey, and with TMCK’s All the Things I Did and All the Things I Didn’t Do, it’s a journey I’m enjoying, and a roller-coaster ride I’m ready for.
Words and love by the Legendary Roy Peak esq.
Released 29th June 2018