They say they ain’t no supergroup, but self-proclaimed “exotic band” Middle Brother is brimming with indie rock’s finest road warriors: soulful Delta Spirit frontman Matt Vasquez, Dawes’ country-folk hustler Taylor Goldsmith and Deer Tick anchor John McCauley. This resplendent synergistic concoction is brought to us curtsey of Partisan Records, home anachronistic female trio Mountain Man and cross dressing miscreants Deer Tick. Drawing from Rock’s bottomless tide pool, Middle Brother’s eponymous LP fuses Mississippi blues, Dixie ballads and folksy Americana, cut with generous globs of quirk and kink.
On single “Me, Me, Me”, Middle Brother fires an opening salvo with carefree, spontaneous yelps and skittering piano lines. Chuck Berry-esque guitar riffs drag us through a lyrical morass, as McCauley conveys an urgent tale of manipulation and egocentrism. Bombarded with questions, he faces fierce competition in life and love: “If he puts lies in your head / if he interrupts a feelin’ / that he cannot comprehend / I guess it’s meeee me me me meeee.” This suave dude chasing after McCauley’s girl may be smooth around the edges, but he lacks an authentic and genuine core: he is hollow. The ensuing instrumental flurry, equal parts sock hop and raunchy carnival, sets up a proclamation of headstrong independence and boiling lust: “I do my very own things these days / I gotta desiahhhhh / I gotta desiahhhhh!’”
Vasquez struts to the mic in “Green Eyes”, backed by Goldsmith’s chiming Rickenbacker, as high standards meet slim pickings: “I’ve been lookin’ for sometime / in a room full of pennies, for my dime.” Dwarfed by chronic loneliness, Vasquez dishes out a densely rendered fantasy, rife with restrictive accent qualifications and the apparent contradiction of wholesome sexuality: “She’s a Southern girl without a drawl / she’s a good girl who wears black bras.” Shuffling tambourine and metronomic hand clapping on title track “Middle Brother” frame denial as second nature. In turn, ignorance is unadulterated bliss: “I know my days are numbered / but I’m bad at math.” Playful riffs shoot from behind the vocals to the pulse of rhythmic excitement. Taking us back to those trailblazing ‘56 Sun Records days, Middle Brother interjects us with Elvis’ throaty, erotically charged “Uh huh,” chased by a cathartic, exuberant “Woooo, wheee!” that would have Jerry Lee Lewis crying happy tears. As the track fades, we hear a faint “that’s a wrap,” followed by Vasquez’s signature schoolyard diction: “we did it motherfuh…” Just in time to keep that family friendly rating.
Country waltz “Theatre” matches Vasquez’s glottal grinding with a deconstructed piano. He delivers coarse, dirty vocals with brutal conviction, frustration, and resentment: “This life will tell you nothing / nothing but lies.” Ripping to shreds life’s unfulfilled promises with the rapture of gospel, raspy howls permeate the track. Covering Paul Westerberg’s “Portland”, tranquil, crisp, finger picking softens McCauley’s pitchy vocal, as his cool disregard is exposed as a poorly masked amalgam of nostalgia and anxiety: “Its too late to turn back, here we go / Portland, oh, no.”
Closing out the elpee with “Million Dollar Bill”, we are reduced to a two-dimensional slip of paper in pursuit of a girl that’s already slipped away. Goldsmith’s humble, pristine voice turns ambition on its head, as he fantasizes: “When it hits me that she’s gone / I think I’ll run for president / and get my face put on the million dollar bill.” But his drive for posterity is neither societal progress, nor world peace, nor any of that groovy jazz, but simply to remain with his erstwhile lover as a mere shadow: “So when these rich men that she wants / show her ways that they can take care of her / I’ll have found a way to be there with her still.” Vasquez finishes the album with soulful quivering that is at once bewildered and bursting with passion, as he wails in merciless yearning for his love’s return. Stuck in the middle with these three? Squeeze me in!