The Milk Carton Kids

The Milk Carton Kids

The Barr Brothers

Mon, October 15, 2018

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Union Transfer

Philadelphia, PA

$28.00 - $125.00

This event is all ages

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The Milk Carton Kids
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.

***

Produced by Joe Henry and engineered by Ryan Freeland, "All the Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn't Do" was recorded in October 2017 in the Sun Room at House of Blues Studio in Nashville. Musicians who joined them there included Brittany Haas on violin and mandolin, Paul Kowert and Dennis Crouch on bass, Jay Bellerose on drums, Levon Henry on clarinet and saxophone, Nat Smith on cello, Pat Sansone on piano, mellotron, and Hammond organ, Russ Pahl on pedal steel and other guitars and Lindsay Lou and Logan Ledger as additional singers. Mixed by Pattengale, the album was mastered by Kim Rosen.

If previous Milk Carton Kids productions recall plaintive missives from a faraway hometown, these songs sound more intimate, like a tragic midnight knock at your front door.

The album ricochets between familiar styles and experimental songs. "Just Look at Us Now" rejects easy sentiment, suggesting that hindsight only reveals how badly things have turned out. "It's a terrifying place to be," says Ryan, "when everything seemed to be going fine." The stunned "Mourning in America" holds up an atmospheric Polaroid from the Midwest—as Ryan explains it, "what it feels like to live in a country you thought you knew."

In one of their biggest departures, "Nothing Is Real," neither of The Milk Carton Kids plays guitar. Describing the recording session for it, Pattengale says, "That was one of the days we had maybe ten people in studio. The way that I connected to the song was by playing it on the piano. When we were in studio and having trouble figuring out the angle, I thought, 'Why don't we use the piano, and assign each person a part of what I'm playing?' That song used my piano part almost as if we were writing an arrangement."

Inside the theme of shattered realities that wires the album together, even elliptical songs somehow become direct. The lyrics for "Blindness," when set to music, acquired an unnerving undertone. A subdued rhythm section and extended guitar solo turns "One More for the Road" from a wistful late-night last call into an astounding ten-and-a half-minute elegy.

Western influences on "Younger Years" gallop over a snaking clarinet and under vocals looking for something to salvage from sorrow ("Love inside our hearts / is the only kind of savior we've been sent"). "You Break My Heart" features Pattengale's solo vocals. Harmony turns "I've Been Loving You" into visceral grief. "For much of my life I've avoided that kind of intimacy and immediacy in my own writing," says Pattengale, "but you have to leave your blood on the page. It's wonderful, but it can also be a terrifying thing."

"Big Time" brings the energy of their live performances into the studio. "The goal was actually to record this one with a string band," Ryan says. "So everybody was in the room together. Lyrically, this one deals in the most hopeful way with some of the themes of the record."

The atmosphere on much of the album is both lush and spare, like waking up at night to find yourself on an ice floe that has drifted far from shore. "A Sea of Roses" traces its narrator's burial wishes, while "Unwinnable War" went through a metamorphosis as it developed. "If these are the sides we're staking out, no one side or the other can win," says Ryan. "We lose sight of the damage the battle does."

The title track, "All the Things…" presents a ledger of the countless tiny moments in a relationship from the vantage point of its passage into memory. ("The story of how the end came to be. How you became you. How I became me.")

***

Listening to the Milk Carton Kids talk about their creative process, it's easy to imagine them running in opposite directions even while yoked together. "Joey and I famously have an adversarial relationship, and that did not abate when it came to choosing songs," Pattengale says. 

They dig at each other in interviews and on stage, where Ryan plays his own straight man, while Pattengale tunes his guitar. The songs emerge somewhere in the silences and the struggle between their sensibilities.

They have been known to argue over song choices. They have been known to argue about everything from wardrobe to geography to grammar. But their singing is the place where they make room for each other and the shared identity that rises out of their combined voices.

Pattengale recalls hearing a story from Del Byrant, the son of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who wrote so many of the Everly Brothers' biggest hits. The tale goes that when it came time to teach them a new song, the couple would separate the brothers, with each one going into a different room to learn his part. In the process, they would tell each brother that he was singing the melody, while his brother was singing harmony.

Defying the conventions of melody and harmony is a strategy the Milk Carton Kids have consciously embraced. "Sometimes, we'll switch parts for a beat or a bar or a note," Ryan says. "And that starts to obfuscate what is the melody and what is the supporting part. Because we think of both of them being strong enough to stand alone."

"There are only so many things you can do alone in life that allow you to transcend your sense of self for even a short period," Pattengale says. "I'm the lucky recipient of a life in which for hundreds of times, day after day, I get to spend an hour that is like speaking a language only two people know and doing it in a space with others who want to hear it.

By extending that language to a band and reimagining the boundaries around what acoustic-centered two-part harmony can sound like, "All The Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn't Do" carries listeners down a river and out into the open sea.
The Barr Brothers
The Barr Brothers
"You just try to see the thing
for what it is
and what it is
is
a heartbreaking,
soulshaking,
overwhelming
exhalation."
- "Defibrillation"

To begin their third album, The Barr Brothers had to make some noise together. No plans or distractions, no preconceptions. No friends or strangers, label reps or engineers, no cellphone trills or city sound. No partners. No children. Not even any notebooks of lyrics - verses, choruses, chords preconsidered and plotted out. For the first time the band's three members - namesake siblings Brad and Andrew Barr, harpist Sarah Pagé - would go songless into studio. Empty-handed, whole-hearted, 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.

They spent a whole week playing. These were improvisations lasting hours at a time - noons and midnights, dusks and dawns, a chance to remember who they were and who they were becoming. Some of this was groove: patterns inspired by India, West Africa and 808 drum machines, deeper and heavier than what they'd tried before. Some of it came from Pagé's new inventions: humbuckers, Kleenex-box signal-splitters, hacks to make her harp into a versatile, sub-bass-booming noisemaker. But there was also plain old guitar - songs opened up by that big electric sound. Brad had asked, "How do we make music when there is no song?" The answer was this roaming, three-dimensional music, filled with nostalgia and experiments and rolling space, found on the fringes of Saint Zenon, Québec (pop. 1,1150).

The stakes felt high. The success of 2014's Sleeping Operator had taken the band from Montreal to Nashville to Milan, from the Newport Folk Festival to The Late Show with David Letterman. By now everyone knew the story of the American brothers who had decamped for Canada; how they had discovered Pagé by hearing her harp through a shared apartment wall. LP3 would be brought into a world where Trump was president. Where both Barrs were fathers. And where thousands of fans were waiting for the band's next volley.

Queens of the Breakers was born in three sessions at that cabin in the country, a place called the Wild Studio. Brad took those first free sounds and distilled them into tidal, seeking songs - stories of the way lovers and companions fall in and out of sync. More recording followed at Studio Mixart, in Montreal, and at the group's own boiler-room of a practice space. The result is this: 11 tracks of blazing courage and failing resolve; music suffused with low grooves and darting melodies, subtle breakages, the Barr Brothers' wide-open sense of the blues.

Some of this album takes place in the past. "Song That I Heard", with its memories of Brad's arrival in Montreal, the different ways he fell in love. Or Queens' title track, which revisits the Barrs' misspent youth - a gang of friends rambling through Rhode Island mansions, dressed in their mothers' dresses, wreaking small havocs. How many of our old friends do we still see? How many of those dreams came true? 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.

The rawest reminder of Queens' first jams appears on "Kompromat", which bristles with rattle and riff, Pagé's kora-like harp. "I think we're in love with your abuse," Brad snarls at his homeland. "You got one hand on the driver's wheel / in the other a noose." On Queens of the Breakers' magnificent opening cut, "Defibrillation", the reckoning is softer - but not necessarily kinder. "Defibrillation" was built atop a drumbeat, something Andrew found at a hospital one Christmas night. Sitting with his mother, holding her hand - she had fallen, needed stitches - he observed a pair of heart monitors, each connected to a different, unseen person's pulse. They were beating together, then not, and not: parting and crisscrossing. He tried to memorize the pattern. Later, at home, he learned to play it on bass-drum and snare and tom. When he sent the beat to his brother, Brad sent back the beginnings of this: a song like a letter from a father to his son. "I just thought I'd save you some time," he offers, "straighten it out here / make it rhyme." Still, the singer's not peddling fake wisdom . For all its striving, "Defibrillation" is a letter without answers, a gesture into space, a lament for the dither that exists between every human being.

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.
Venue Information:
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123