The Milk Carton Kids: All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do
The Milk Carton Kids, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, have often been compared to Simon & Garfunkel, and now, on their fourth studio album, the MCK have learned what S&G did on their second: adding a band can really open things up. Bringing in a rhythm section and melodic instruments provides the acoustic-music duo with more real estate atop which to overlay their close, pristine harmonies and plaintive lead vocals. Any trepidation among longtime fans that some purity may be lost in the shuffle can be set aside in advance. All the Things… not only still sounds just like ‘em but, despite the expansion, is arguably their most intimate work to date. It’s a darker record though; within those keening voices lives some serious heartbreak. New songs like “Unwinnable War” and “Blindness” chart the despair of a failing relationship—in the latter, steel guitar, violin, cello and alto clarinet juxtapose with the duo’s dissonant harmonies and then, starkly add, “I thought I heard a whisper reaching from the past/ An echo, a reminder that nothing ever lasts.” Pedestrian title aside, the epic “One More for the Road” shines, taking time to find its way and reveal its copious riches over 10-plus minutes—it doesn’t say much, but it doesn’t have to as its utter loneliness is made clear. And “Mourning in America” is an anthemic study of truths and sorrows, so grand and yet so painful in its raw exposures. Ryan and Pattengale have made a more potent statement here than ever before, and its eloquence suits them.