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The Milk Carton Kids

Monterey – 2015 (Anti-)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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The Milk Carton Kids may be one of the most unlikely Americana contenders of the past few years. Relying solely on dual acoustic guitars and close-knit harmonies, they look and sound like an introspective folk duo circa the mid '60s - think Simon and Garfunkel, Peter and Gordon, or Chad and Jeremy - while their ability to randomly toss off a wisecrack or a self-deprecating aside just as easily brings the Smothers Brothers to mind. Yet, in the two years since their sophomore set, "The Ash & Clay," the Kids - aka Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale - have received all kinds of kudos from fans and tastemakers alike, setting up a high standard and raising the bar for "Monterey."

Of course, there are worse things than finding yourself steadily ascending the rungs towards superstardom, especially if you don't find yourself forced to trade artistic intent for commercial success. Given that acceptance, they could hardly have been blamed if they simply opted to make the new album in the usual orthodox way. Yet, rather than entering another recording studio, they opted instead to record in a variety of locales, specifically the venues that they found themselves in on tour, a scenario that allowed them to soak up a different ambiance and forsake the strict regimen that comes with the typical studio scenario.

Produced by the duo and recorded and mixed by Pattengale, "Monterey" presented something of a risky situation. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be accurate to suggest that it boasts any hint of a celebratory sound. Quite to the contrary in fact, these songs unfold in a series of unsettled set-ups, combining a hint of turbulence and turmoil with a contemplative quality that digs deep into the human psyche. Though sparse and unadorned, "Monterey" is still a preferred place to be.