Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
There's no way of knowing how any of the people in Milk Carton Kids songs are going to fare. We aren't sure how they're going to turn out. We are given parts of their stories and then we're just left. We listen as they go on with their journeys. We listen as they walk off into the sunset or back out into the freezing cold, as it's more the case with the songs on the Los Angeles band's incredible sophomore album, "Prologue." The people that Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan write to life are those who leave their traces all over the place, their footprints and fingerprints, their thoughts and their pains. They leave these parts behind mostly as a trail because damn if they know where they want to get to, damn if they know who's going to take them in. The lights have been dimmed and the feet are dragging. They're kicking dirt and they've taken to the roads, just leaving, just being left, with nothing else to do but to be gone. It's a drifter's sort of existence for those in Milk Carton Kids songs, with existing nothing that is at all stable. There was a love that once was promising. It exists one-sidedly now, or most of the time and there's a sad lingering to it. No one is sure what to make of it. No one is sure where or when it went wrong and the same kind of confusion existed at the start of it as well. These are fits and they are the actions and behaviors of those starting over. They have had enough and they just going to start again if they must. They're going to pine for the good love that they once had and want back, but so much of that feels as if it's hopeless. Scars will lighten fast and, as Ryan sings, "I don't feel the pain I once did." It's a reaction to it refraining from being so consuming any longer. It's no longer what all the hours are spent on thinking about. From here on out, everything's going to have to be figured out on their own. They have to find happiness in other lights and light in different happiness. The images of the rearview mirrors and leaving someplace behind, not because you necessarily want to, but because you have to, are persistent in these songs of easy melancholia. They sober us and they age us. They make us feel as if we're lonelier than we actually are. They cover us in a different warmth, one that is all too familiar, though it's been buried for so long. On "I Still Want A Little More," there's a sense that things aren't so bad, but there's a hitch and it's sung, by the two in harmony, "I just can't shake this feeling that we're out of luck and nothing more/A pound of dust/A holy war." Even if things aren't horrible, there's a chasm between being a complete person and where things lie right now. There are broken people all over "Prologue," people who will figure it all out someday, we think. We just might never know and so we put our hand above our eyes, to shield them from the banking sun and we watch them as they go, softly into that orange.