It’s been several years since Mice in Cars last graced an Atlanta stage and over five since they released their final record, a two-song EP titled Good Men Are Monsters. I remember being somewhat enamored to that EP’s B-side — a raw, lo-fi ripper called “Six Months on Mir” that promised a new, more aggressive direction for the band. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The group, which consisted of guitarist/vocalist Myke Johns, his younger brother Nick on drums, and Mark Parker on bass, puttered around the scene for a while longer before eventually calling it quits.
Since that time, the elder Johns has continued to make his presence felt in the city, both as a producer for NPR affiliate WABE and as co-creator of the award-winning live reading series Write Club Atlanta. Musically, however, he’s been in near hibernation, occasionally surfacing to share a new demo track or announce an informal performance — nothing official. His brother Nick, meanwhile, has managed to stir up plenty of noise in Atlanta and beyond, playing keys for alt-blues rockers Brother Hawk.
However, with today’s release of his debut EP, Party Unity, Myke Johns, aka Meaning of Everything, makes his formal return to Atlanta music. It’s a project he’s been teasing since college, never moving beyond the rudimentary demos he would record in his spare time at home. “I’ve just always had it in my pocket as this aspirational ‘someday’ thing,” Johns explains. “After [Mice in Cars], I kinda stopped making music. I was going through some stuff, mentally, and it took me a while to come back around to accepting that I was allowed to do stuff to make myself happy.”
When Johns started tracking instruments and outlining concepts for the EP, he did so without any significant plans or expectations. But he soon felt himself growing addicted to the process. Still, it wasn’t until his friend, Gus Fernandez of Pony League, joined him on a recording session that he began to take the idea of Meaning of Everything seriously. “I was writing short little songs and like recording vocals in my car at night and it felt like it was propelling itself along,” Johns says. “And then Gus recorded drums for ‘Prior Conviction’ and I got very excited that this was a real thing I was doing.”
Named after the title of a Simon Winchester book about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary, you might think that Party Unity would be full of polite, bookish songs that are more clever than caustic. And to some extent, you’d be right. Parts of the record (for instance, the cool yet wistful “Objective Look at a Family Album”) offers up the kind of smart, confident collegiate rock that Pavement built their legacy on.
But if you ask me, much of the EPs charm is built on the roiling energy Johns conjures on tracks like the scrappy opener “Like Math” and its boisterous bookend “Prior Conviction.” Stringing together hook-heavy pop punk with the angular guitar eruptions of ’90s post-hardcore groups like Jawbox and Shiner, Party Unity works best when it’s charging ahead at full sprint, yelling at the top of its lungs, and leaping into gang choruses. Indeed, much of the record harkens back to Mice in Car’s scruffy, lo-fi grit, which isn’t all that surprising — with Nick pitching in on drums and organ, this is as close to a MiC reunion as we’re likely to ever get. And there is the nature of the recording itself — quick, down and dirty, with minimal fuss. As Johns puts is, “The velocity of this project felt necessary. Adrenaline got involved and it got done fast.”
And yet, to chalk Meaning of Everything up to a simple blast of youthful nostalgia would be wrong. Thematically, Party Unity is an immensely personal work that tackles Johns’ experiences as a father and trying (and often failing) to live up the responsibilities that came with adulthood and raising a family. But while the four songs he offers here are often filled with sobering lyrical insights, the EP’s spry vigor serves as a reminder that it’s also important to be able to let go of your past and have fun in the moment.
Moving forward, it’s unclear just how far Johns is looking to take this new project. For now, he seems content knowing these songs are out in the world for other people to listen to. Although he has some solo test runs in mind, there’s no guarantee Meaning of Everything will evolve into anything more than a vessel for him to release the occasional single or EP. Still, who knows what the future may bring?
“I’m not ruling out the possibility of building a live band to do this stuff, but I’m not champing at the bit for it,” Johns says. “I’m not in my 20s anymore. I don’t have Thunderbox anymore. It’s harder now.”