It is one thing to take months in an expensive studio to craft a record expands the horizons of music through careful songcraft. Sure, it might be technically perfect in every sense, right down to each minor third and diminished seventh, but it might not be any fun. None. Thoroughly joyless. It's entirely another thing to make a record that for all intents are purposes sounds like it was recorded during one drunken, muddled evening by a bunch of hooligans playing children's instruments. It might make Beethoven weep gently to himself in his grave for its lack of musicality, but heck, they sound like they're having a blast and that in itself makes it all worthwhile and listenable. On the small slip of paper included in The Middle Wages self-titled EP is the note "it grows in yer brain like cancer. Enjoy." I couldn't put it any better.
The Middle Wages take a large part of their inspiration from the likes of early, lo-fi Modest Mouse, Daniel Johnston, Animal Collective or any number of bands that seem to just hit record and see what happens. Although the EP is referred to as a "work in progress" (for their forthcoming album Our Hearts Will Never Be the Same), the rich textures developed by the band are remarkable. A prime example might be "86 Copernicus" that has, of all things, a shop-vac as part of the ensemble as they howl I believe the world is still flat over an oddly subdued circus melody. Like a really drunken They Might Be Giants, "Dunn-Rite Construction Company" combines some truly bizarre lyrical content such as we struck up a conversation/like friends doing coke in the basement and we looked like Richard Gere/and Ed Norton in "Primal Fear" and hoe-down-like piano and guitar. Listening to these songs, you just know that they had fun recording them, which is refreshing in a genre where too many bands seem to take themselves very, very seriously. Come on kids, have some fun!
"Jehovah" feels like the lost brother to "Cowboy Dan" by Modest Mouse, except somehow it gets invaded by a falsetto chorus that interjects themselves into the vocals as the drums and guitar grow louder and louder. All of this happens in a compact 1:17. Now that's musical efficiency. "Joe Smith" is driven by what sounds like a toy harmophone and your uncle's organ in the livingroom as they lazily croon you told me to mow the lawn/for seven weeks now wandering to the assurance that don't worry/I'll get around to it. The unique mix of instrumentation never loses the melody that makes the song so infectious. The skill of writing clever lyrics is apparent throughout the record, such as in "Carpenter" where they confess Oh I became a barber/a barber/I became a barber/by mistake/I became a barber to cut people's hair/but that shit just keeps on growing. In the closer ("Hey, You Never Know"), apparently an ode to a certain Yolanda, what might be a ukulele is joined with off-key whistling as they tell the story of misfortune in lottery purchases. It sounds like it might have been recorded in one take, but that some of the charm of the Middle Wages.
Sure, this EP is a little rough around the edges. Very rough. You might not want to use the Middle Wages to clean dirt off your new car. However, there is undeniable contagiousness to the band that isn't masked by the uneven recording and performance. The playful feel of the songs, along with the thrift store instrumentation, keeps your attention in what might otherwise just be lo-fi noise. It's springtime, and to borrow some baseball parlance, the Middle Wages has a lot of "upside". That is, you just know that somewhere in there, if they play their cards right, is one heck of a band.