Review Summary: The songs are stormy but the vision is crystal clear.
The difficult thing about any debut album is figuring out the vision it expresses. There's so much a new band has to do, though - carve out its own space in the big world of music, demonstrate an understanding of its own capabilities and translate those capabilities into a coherent work - that oftentimes that bigger picture gets lost in the shuffle. That's why Migrant Kids' self-titled debut is so impressive: rousing emo-rock anthemia, winding instrumental sections and open ambient spaces add up to a vivid soundscape that towers over just about every other new act this year. Don't let the album's slight thirty-three minute length fool you. It's massive.
The three members of Migrant Kids hail from different places. Cousins Migual Ojeda and John Zakoor started the band in Detroit before heading down to Austin for warmer weather, where they met third member Bryan O'Flynn. Yet from the immediately natural dynamic between the three, you wouldn't be able to tell. "Act I" is as amiable an opener as they come, blending Ojeda and Zakoor's ragged rock vocals into a more melodic patchwork of guitar warbles, synths, and drums from O'Flynn. The band's varied geography is also reflected in Migrant Kids' temperament: the warm vocals and melodies bringing vulnerability and passion to the table; the chilly instrumentation and production bringing atmosphere and tension. It's a lovely balance of elements, one well-utilized throughout Migrant Kids
The pacing of the album also inspires confidence, showing both that the band is well-versed in its own strengths and that it's still willing to venture down plenty of rabbit holes. Longer tracks like "Long Distance," which builds from a bitter acoustic ballad to a crushing post-rock climax that'll have Red Sparowes fans drooling, wield impressive power over their runlength; interludes, however, are as integral a part of the Migrant Kids experience as the grander cuts. "Eyes Removed" is wordless but speaks volumes in its ominous choral chants and scattered seeds of guitar, ruins and majesty in one bite - the band leaves these instrumental sections to our imagination and the album is richer for it. These brief interpretative sections open up the album's world, expanding a work largely self-contained into something with more abstract possibilities.
If there's one caveat, it's that the album poses more questions than it answers: the refrain "Tell me what to say," a motif recurred throughout, straddles the line between delicious ambiguity and plain confusion. But if only for how many ways Migrant Kids asks that basic question and for how powerfully it asks it, it's worth hearing out. Album centerpiece "Canvas Of Me" is one of the most uplifting rock songs of the year, a maelstrom of soaring melodies and chaotic angst inextricably tangled, and the way the band coaxes the beauty out of its own wreckage hints at even greater conquests to come.