When: Sun., Sept. 13, 8 p.m. 2015
THE MILK CARTON KIDS | SUNDAY, SEPT. 13
CAROLINA THEATRE, DURHAM—For the casual listener, it may seem that The Milk Carton Kids haven't grown much during their three-record career. As with their debut, Prologue, and 2013's Grammy-nominated The Ash & Clay, the new Monterey features Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan harmonizing over acoustic guitars. But don't confuse being mellow for being toothless: The Milk Carton Kids have developed a razor-sharp edge, defying preconceptions that they're Simon & Garfunkel 2.0.
During Monterey, this acuity rings clearest on "Freedom," written in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. The Milk Carton Kids aren't the only ones to approach that horror in song, of course (see also Mandolin Orange's "Blue Ruin" or Sun Kil Moon's "Pray for Newtown"), but "Freedom" counters pretty guitars with a biting undercurrent: "Listen up, hear the sound/Of screaming as the shots ring out," they sing. "That's what freedom sounds like now."
The rest of the tune presents a pained examination of attitudes on gun ownership. With songs like "Freedom" and the tongue-in-cheek "High Hopes," The Milk Carton Kids manage to be confrontational without being aggressive. They apply the same deep, emotional introspection of their earlier work to songs that address larger issues, yielding beautiful tunes that hit hard.
"To get at the frustration and the anger and the helplessness that one feels when a societal problem or a political problem is having a negative effect on them personally, to me, those are the most powerful political songs," Ryan explains.
For Ryan, the most intimate, personal writing often has the broadest appeal, because people have more in common than they may realize.
"The Internet is one of the biggest illuminators of this phenomenon," he says. "Whatever you're going through—whether it's emotional, physical, whatever—just Google it. You will find 80,000 entries from people who have the exact same, tiny, minute, little thing that you have." The Contenders open. 8 p.m., $27–$79, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham, 919-560-3030, www.carolinatheatre.org. —Allison Hussey