Middle Brother was one of the first so-called “indie” bands I was introduced to at a young age. Ironically, my older brother Danny, the middle brother in my family, played me their song “Blue Eyes” in the car and I was hooked. It’s about 12 years later now and I still consider their self-titled album, Middle Brother, to be among my top 5 records of all time. The album is so raw and unique, yet familiar. Lyrically, the album draws on influences like Bob Dylan and The Beatles with “real-life” and unfiltered, but nonchalant word play that is still delivered extremely deliberately. Sonically, the instrumentation is surprisingly simple and the production is so lively, dense, and emotional that it could almost be mistaken for a Neil Young or Beatles album recorded in one take. In addition, Middle Brother is even more of a phenomenon because the band’s actually composed of an all-star cast from several different indie bands across the country: Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes, John J. McCauley III from Deer Tick, and Matthew Vasquez from Delta Spirit. In my opinion, they’re similar to a modern day Traveling Wilburys.
While I believe the entire album is immaculate and should be listened to in one go, the song that takes the cake and perfectly summarizes Middle Brothers’ sound and demonstrates their individual talent is “Million Dollar Bill”. There is a certain perfection found in “Million Dollar Bill” that just hits the listener like an eighteen wheeler. The verses are crafted so well and just seem like such unlikely thoughts, but paint such clear images in my mind. Consider the first verse:
“When it hits me that she's gone
I think I'll run for President
And get my face put on the million dollar bill
So when these rich men that she wants
Show her ways that they can’t take care of her
I'll have found a way to be there with her still”
Even the way they slowly release each phrase of the verse to make it seem like just one long, thought out, suspenseful sentence makes the payoff at the end of the verses that much better. The second verse is another great example of this style, and is also notably fantastic because of the way the vocal tone changes as McCauley’s raspy voice takes over for Goldsmith and smacks the listener right in the face. It’s really a personal favorite moment of mine.
“When it hits me that she’s gone
I'll think I'll be an astronaut
Make the moon my home and leave this world behind
So when she steps out into the night
And finds the light that makes her prettiest
She'll be facing me everytime she shines”
I’m sorry, but who the hell thinks of that lyric. It’s such a far out thought and vision that gently snowballs until it becomes something too big not to notice once he finally let’s go of the last few words. To add to this, the bridge section capitalizes on the verses flow by keeping the same lyrical pattern, just for a moment, then a subtle change flexes the tune into a bigger and fuller moment that highlights their ability to write and perform dynamically.
“When it hits me that she’s left me alone
When I finally move on with my life
Her goodbye written into stone
And her shadow grown into the night”
The last verse is another great example of the outstanding creativity shown in this song. It contains the same style and theme as the previous verses, but another entirely different perspective on how to remain a residual piece of your past loves’ heart.
“When it hits me that she’s gone
I'll think I'll be a movie star
Be the finest man the world has ever seen
So when all the lovers that she’s found
Show her ways they have learned to talk to her
Behind each perfect word there’ll be a little bit of me”
The lyrics in “Million Dollar Bill” are really what sells me on the song. There’s something about them that seems so cosmic and prophetic because I can’t seem to wrap my head around the way they found these themes. Imagine having your face printed onto a million dollar bill just so you can find a way to be with the girl that you lost to richer men. It all just seems so strangely beautiful and heavy while remaining brutally honest about the downfalls and regrets of one’s life.
I hope you go listen to this song and see if you feel the same way. I’m tired of feeling like the only one who knows how good it truly is. And if you do plan on listening to the song, you might as well listen to the whole album in order, so when “Million Dollar Bill” comes on at the end, it properly kicks your ass.