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The band’s core ingredients—not to mention a gift for warm, intricate songcraft—render The Milk Carton Kids’ records practically irresistible.
With very few bells and whistles, the duo can draw vivid storylines and create complex characters.
The Milk Carton Kids are a major force in the continuing American folk tradition. Comprised of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, the duo is known for intricate, inventive musicianship, with deeply personal storytelling set to ethereal harmonies.
Listening to the Milk Carton Kids talk about their creative process, it’s easy to imagine them running in opposite directions even while yoked together. They dig at each other in interviews and on stage, where Ryan plays his own straight man, while Pattengale tunes his guitar. The songs emerge somewhere in the silences and the struggle between their sensibilities. They have been known to argue over song choices. They have been known to argue about everything from wardrobe to geography to grammar. But their singing is the place where they make room for each other and the shared identity that rises out of their combined voices.
Defying the conventions of melody and harmony is a strategy the Milk Carton Kids have consciously embraced. “Sometimes, we’ll switch parts for a beat or a bar or a note,” Ryan says. “And that starts to obfuscate what is the melody and what is the supporting part. Because we think of both being strong enough to stand alone.”
The Only Ones, the group’s new record (out now on the band’s own Milk Carton Records imprint in partnership with Thirty Tigers), finds Ryan and Pattengale performing a stripped-down acoustic set without a backing band. On The Only Ones, the pair returns to the core of what they are about musically: the duo.