Album Spotlight: Midland, ‘On the Rocks’
Sharp songwriting and an absolute dedication to a throwback sound separate Midland's On the Rocks album from anything released in 2017, but you already knew that.
The project is everything you're expecting. Not a fan of either of their first two singles? Maybe stream this 13-song, traditional country project first. The trio expand upon the easy country melodies but never strain to stay in a rhinestoned lane they've spent nearly four years paving. If this brand of twang was forced the cracks would show, but if anything, a fan of "Drinkin' Problem" is only going to find more to love.
Most songs roll along at a mid-tempo clip, with Texas steel or a Bakersfield beat driving the oft-sad stories forward with rare comfort. Mark Wystrach is a sturdy lead singer capable of capturing a workmanlike push ("Check Cashin' Country") or melancholy mood ("Out of Sight"), but it's Cameron Duddy and Jess Carson's harmonies that quietly distinguish the group. "Burn Out" is the place to begin if you appreciate rich, warm and textured vocal contributions.
Everything about On the Rocks comes with nostalgia. Songs like "Nothin' New Under the Neon" sound like songs you'd hear during a barroom scene in a modern Western movie. It'd start but fade as the characters — likely a mustachioed troubadour and his pretty lil' thing — decide it just isn't going to work out. "Nothin' neeeewwwwww, under the neon," he cries out like an injured wolf.
"Altitude Adjustment" is the most obvious example of Midland's at times poetic lyricism. This is the most clever stoner song you'll ever hear — the title could become the next great coded phrase for smoking marijuana.
Just one or two more deviations would break up this 46 minutes nicely. As is, the sound gets redundant toward the end. That's not an indictment of "Electric Rodeo" or "Somewhere In the Wind" as much as it is a conversation that lasts a little too long, even if it is rich, smart and satisfying.
Key Tracks: "Make a Little," "Drinkin' Problem," "Burn Out," "Out of Sight"
Did You Know?: "Make a Little" was one of the last songs Midland wrote for this album.
So, What's With the Outfits?