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Pop/folk rock duo, Midwest Soul Xchange, returns in fine form with a rock opera inspired by…the water crisis in Flint, Michigan! Not the most obvious topic for such a genre, but it serves up enough drama to drive the album hand-in-hand with brilliant songwriting and performances.
Rooted in the pantheon of pop-rock heroes and buttery vocal harmonies, the pair are capable of imparting as much character, colour, and intrigue as the best of them. Each track succeeds in embodying an individual chapter of the story – back-to-back numbers like ‘Dear Sarah’ and ‘Molehill Mountain’ jump from grandiose, pseudo-orchestral sweeps to McCartney’s music hall style tunes (or as Lennon cynically put it, “granny music shit”…)
Midwest Soul Xchange’s earnest sentimentality is a major attraction of their sound. Their vocals are full of thundering pain, tearful whimpers, and optimistic cheer – a cornerstone of a rock opera with myriad personalities.
Most theatrical of all is perhaps ‘Name Like a Symbol’, which melds waltzy vamps and accordions with some deranged, anxious pirate on the microphone. It genuinely sounds like something right off a musical soundtrack – impressive in every nuance, albeit cut too short.
Instrumentally, the core personality of many tracks centres on the raw piano compositions. The opening ‘Overture/The Story Unfolds’ transitions from eerie and mystical through Beatles-esque refrains, and finally, a spoken word piece with dangling lead lines in the distance. Great use is made of tone, dynamics and variation between electric keys and analogue pianos to encapsulate the feeling of a track and the story told via the lyrics.
The album peaks with a track reminiscent of Elliott Smith. ‘The Loser Illusion’ is smothered in ghostly harmony vocals and led by a powerful, pining lead performance. The spacey ornamentation brings out the quality of production on this album and the purposeful car crash ending to the tune is equal parts hilarious and perfect conclusion. A stellar track.
‘Weakened at the Asylum’ is a worthy successor to a lineage that was once dominated by greats like Pink Floyd and The Who but has since been lost over time. The genuine love of classic rock and its theatrical subgenres is unabashedly on display here – Midwest Soul Xchange are studied and seasoned craftsmen and a must hear for anyone of this musical persuasion.