Let’s talk about music phases—those times in your life when your library is just dominated by some specific style or artist, and you just can’t get enough. I can think of plenty of times when I was listening to my “average” library and was suddenly hooked by a couple of tracks. The next thing I knew, that one tracklist was looped on shuffle for the next week and a half.
Maybe it was that time you were on a nostalgia kick and decided that mid-2000s pop was the peak of human existence. Perhaps stress got you down and some punky emo-rock was the only solution to your unending woes. It’s even possible—and stick with me here—that you’ve started listening to some of your parents’ music. Yes, dad-rock eventually comes for all.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us experience something like this every once in a while. Certainly, I’m in one of those phases right now, but luckily for me, I have an outlet with which I can share my craze. Without further adieu, I present: “John gushes about The Milk Carton Kids in the form of a 500-word long annotated playlist.” I hope you enjoy.
1. “No Hammer To Hold” by The Milk Carton Kids
One of my personal favorites off of their first studio album Prologue (2011), this song showcases everything I love about the duo. The hook, “Take me back to Minnesota in the snow,” is delivered with an authenticity that I just can’t get enough of. And I’m not even from Minnesota.
2.“Heaven” by The Milk Carton Kids
A complete right turn from the previous track, this one is an oddly bouncy folk tune from their sophomore album The Ash & Clay (2013). Listening to it, I’m just infinitely impressed by how much talent is on display. Like seriously, watch it be performed. The way Kenneth Pattengale is able to just rock his acoustic guitar while still harmonizing so well with Joey Ryan is unbelievable.
3.“The Only Ones” by The Milk Carton Kids
The headline track off of their most recent album, The Only Ones (2019), is a standout amongst their newest music. Where often the vocals just serve to complement one another in the harmony, I’ve found that this track in particular really brings out the rumbliness of their voices in the lower sections. This song is crisp, catchy, and beautifully simple.
4. “New York” by The Milk Carton Kids
Another great track off of Prologue, this one straddles the line between melancholy and defiant. The Simon and Garfunkel-esque harmonies combined with lovely fingerstyle acoustic guitar arrangements create an excellent sense of intimacy, yet the track itself still feels fully fleshed out.
5. “Just Look At Us Now” by The Milk Carton Kids
The first track on their 2018 album, All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do, is a departure from their traditional style, but is still excellent in its own right. The album experiments with a full band arrangement rather than just using two acoustic guitars, and while it doesn’t always work, this track definitely shows that there’s a lot of great music to be made with that setup.
6. “Hear Them Loud” by The Milk Carton Kids
Another standout from The Ash & Clay, the melody being played by Pattengale’s guitar here takes a number of twists and turns that I don’t often see replicated in other music of this style. The intro and the short instrumental in this song are some of my favorite moments off of the whole album. It’s all very relaxed, very clean, and very, very enjoyable.
7. “Honey, Honey” by The Milk Carton Kids
One of the fastest songs I’ve heard from the musical duo, the whole track is carried along at a brisk pace by the constant, almost banjo-like plucking pattern. My foot is tapping as I’m typing this, and I guarantee yours will too if you decide to give it a listen.
8.“Michigan” by The Milk Carton Kids
Closing this list is the very first track off of Prologue, “Michigan.” This song is the one that first began my Milk Carton Kids-phase, soon after it was introduced to me by my uncle over the summer. The hook here might be one of my favorites from their whole discography, it really makes excellent use of Ryan and Pattengale’s harmonies. The first will always be the best, and for me, this is it.