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5 Essential Songs For New Fans Of The Milk Carton Kids

Written by Sally McMullen on February 11, 2020

Last week, I was simultaneously procrastinating and attempting to combat my 3.30itis by scouring Spotify for some new tunes. And bingo! After landing on a ‘Relax & Unwind’ playlist, I stumbled across The Milk Carton Kids. Specifically, it was their song ‘Younger Years’ that caught my… well, ear.

Despite floating around since 2011 with six (6!) albums under their belt, I have to admit that I had never heard of them. Feeling both curious and ashamedly uncultured, I thought it was only right that I trawled through their entire discography to educate myself.

For anyone else playing catch up, The Milk Carton Kids is the creative genius of singers and guitarists Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan. Hailing from Eagle Rock in California, their sound is often dubbed as traditional folk. The combination of harmonies, acoustic guitars and an undercurrent of Americana has led many to describe them as the 21st century’s answer to Simon & Garfunkel.

After exploring their catalogue, there were a few tracks that stuck with me. So whether you’re a fellow novice or a seasoned veteran checking to see if your fave made the cut, here are five songs that every new fan of The Milk Carton Kids should know.

1. Michigan

This is arguably their most well-known song and is the opening track from their debut 2011 album Prologue, so I think it is a good place to start. Like many Milk Carton Kids’ songs, ‘Michigan’ is stripped back to nothing but guitars and harmonising vocals. In a music landscape swarming with heavily-produced sounds, it is a gulp of fresh air for anyone yearning for something simpler.

2. I’ll Be Gone

From their latest record The Only One , ‘I’ll Be Gone’ is a whole lotta honky tonk. The lyrics are sung from the perspective of a no-shit-taking woman scorned who is leaving everything behind to chase her freedom. The final result is beautiful, melancholic and perfectly showcases their knack for powerful storytelling.

3. Younger Years

‘Younger Years’ is the first song I heard from The Milk Carton Kids, so it only makes sense that it’s sandwiched in this list. From 2018’s All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do, it’s a sombre tale told with the backdrop of a deserted Nebraskan landscape. Although the track opens with a nostalgic and mournful tone, it closes with a lyrical glimmer of hope: “The blinding light of morning came, Flooding through the window like a friend.”

4. The Ash & Clay

This was probably one of my personal favourites in the lineup. The title track off their 2013 record is a Simon & Garfunkel sounding crooner. Sonically it harks back to another time but lyrically it’s an introspective reflection of American history: “What, oh, have we done to run this country into such a sight. Stolen from our brothers like we couldn’t find a fair enough fight.”

Plus, the music video featuring two beautiful old ladies taking a drive is simple yet inexplicably moving.

5. The Gospel of Mary

The Milk Carton Kids collaborated with Idaho singer-songwriter Josh Ritter to write and release ‘The Gospel of Mary’ in December 2019. Sung from the voice of a mother, it’s a harrowing tale of a family fleeing danger in search of a safe haven to call home. It’s a response to the lack of empathy that the current political powers are showing to refugees in America and around the world right now. It’s an extremely powerful message that uses a biblical tale to shine light on a modern tragedy.

Honourable mention: Wish You Were Here

Ok, this isn’t a The Milk Carton Kids original but their cover of Pink Floyd’s iconic track is heaven in harmonies. They manage to breathe new life into the song without losing any of its original haunting power.

It turns out that I discovered the The Milk Carton Kids at just the right time because the Cali duo are about to head down under for a massive tour to support their latest record The Only Ones in August. The boys will be making eight stops including Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. If you want to experience these sonic germs in person, get your mitts on the tour dates and ticketing info below.

The Milk Carton Kids 2020 Australian Tour

With special guest Vera Solo
Tickets on sale 10am Tuesday, 11th February

Friday, 7th August
Festival Theatre, Adelaide
Tickets: Love Police

Saturday, 8th August
Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan
Tickets: Love Police

Sunday, 9th August
Theatre Royal, Castlemaine
Tickets: Love Police

Monday, 10th August
Melbourne Recital Centre, Melbourne
Tickets: Love Police

Wednesday, 12th August
Freo Social, Perth
Tickets: Love Police

Saturday, 15th August
City Recital Hall, Sydney
Tickets: Love Police

Sunday, 16th August
Mullum Town Hall, Mullumbimby
Tickets: Love Police

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