Review: The Ash & Clay by Milk Carton Kids

Image courtesy of Milk Carton Kids

The Ash & Clay is the third album from Californian duo the Milk Carton Kids, but the first to catch our attention here at Timber & Steel. The album has been somewhat of a breakthrough for Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, whose close two-part vocal harmony and acoustic picking style has been met with comments and critiques ranging from”inspired and sublime” to “derivative and gimmicky”. Obvious comparisons are made of their careful, gentle contemporary folk sound with the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. Such comparisons are useful and accurate in a descriptive sense, but also stifling and reductive to the level of recognition deserved of the band’s creativity, imaginativeness and craft.

Throughout most of the songs on The Ash & Clay, Pattengale and Ryan sing together and also accompany each other on guitars, picking over the top of each other with intricate licks. The affect of this is instrumentally decorative and driving. It also allows for much stylistic variation throughout, with songs on the album like “Honey, Honey” and “Heaven” being washed with traditional American country and bluegrass, old-timey ballads like “Snake Eyes” (an album highlight for me), a range of sparse and moving nu-folk tunes and a number of tracks reflective of that nostalgic, New-York-in-autumn sound such as the opener “Hope of a Lifetime”, title track “Ash & Clay” and “The Jewell of June”.

I think the reason that this album hasn’t been met with unanimous acclaim is that it’s so easy to chalk timelessness down as imitativeness when it stands so close to something that’s also timeless. Personally, this album is very exciting to me because it’s quite rare to discover new music with the power to continually provide me with the cathartic, transcendent  release that I jones for, and that’s how I define it as timeless- knowing that I’ll be able to pull the dusty record off the shelf when I’m wrinkled and retired and it will give me that same feeling.

The Milk Carton Kids have their two previous albums Prologue and Retrospect available for free download on their website and will be touring Australia this coming June 2013.

3 Comments

  1. May 24, 2013 at 16:16

    […] “Obvious comparisons are made of their careful, gentle contemporary folk sound with the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. Such comparisons are useful and accurate in a descriptive sense, but also stifling and reductive to the level of recognition deserved of the band’s creativity, imaginativeness and craft” – Thom Owen Miles reviews The Ash & Clay from The Milk Carton Kids. Review here […]

  2. August 19, 2013 at 00:51

    Nice review. I’m sitting here in a moonlit field in eastern Australia listening to the album for the 10 th or 12 th time (in total, not tonight!) and marvelling at how much more I like it now than when I got it just for the title song. It’s a real creeper. It’s an album on my phone that i am tending to just put on and play through, even if it’s interrupted one or more times. I’m sensitive to derivative bs and these guys aint that. Their lyrics are too whimsical and authentic. Maybe they’re the best example of my pet theory, the “sweet song test” … Whereby your response to a sweet song is highly dependent upon your state of mind/heart. When relaxed and loved-up, a sweet song might sound great. When pumped up or grumpy, the same song can be actually annoying. This album isn’t for everyone, all the time, but I reckon most people could find themselves beguiled by it in the right circumstances. Houston, this is tranquility base, signing off. 🙂

  3. December 19, 2013 at 12:47

    […] 6. The Milk Carton Kids – “Honey, Honey” When I saw The Milk Carton Kids earlier this year I would have to say it was the funniest show I’ve ever been to. In contrast to their sweet, harmonic folk songs that have drawn them comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers, The Milk Carton Kids’ between song banter is some of the driest, rolling-in-the-aisles funny stuff you’ll ever hear. It also helps that they write songs like this. Read Thom Owen Miles’ Review of The Ash & Clay from The Milk Carton Kids here […]


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