by J. Raines
Atop the Mulberry Street Ristorante in Fullerton, CA, there lies a very cozy apartment. Up above in that apartment years ago there was often heard the sound of stomping, of clinging tambourines and cymbals, of piano ballads and jangely guitars. This was the birth place of Cold War Kids, and they kept the soul and feeling of this origin in their first EP releases, Up in Rags, With Our Wallets Full and Mulberry St. (2006 & 2006). A great extent of press and blog fanaticism were results of these first tastes of the band’s work (which took their name from the bass player’s previous art company), and from there on out the next logical step was to find a label. They eventually signed to Downtown records (home of Gnarls Barkley and Art Brut) and unleashed their debut album Robbers and Cowards.
We all know the wild success of that album (165k sold and counting) and how much anticipation there was for the follow-up. Well this has finally arrived, and Loyalty to Loyalty stands on new ground for the Cold War Kids. This band has obviously learned to play together well (after years of touring), and this album reveals much more rockier songs and yet much more darker ballads. The first song, Against Privacy, has a great jazz shuffle drum beat which is supported by Willets lyrics in a very mood-driven atmosphere. It is very political, and easily pulls you into their world. Mexican Dogs is the new Hang Me Up to Dry, including loads of heaviness and dark rock. Every Valley is Not a Lake is a very well crafted song. Its lyrics are very upfront and poetic, speaking of a young, naive boy who has lost some of his respect for his elders and their old ways. It is a constant lesson to this brat to show him what is really going on, well exemplified in the bridge: you’ve got your father’s reckless charm, babe/ as long as you’re giving somebody take/ but every sermon is not the gospel babe, let me put it another way/ every valley is not a lake. These vocals are supported by a very soul and blues influenced piano, as well as inventive drums and a muddy guitar. Yet Cold war Kids go much further in this album, in what is arguably the best song, Relief. It lies toward the end of the album, but as soon as it begins and entirely new world of imagination comes from the band. The drums are choppy and tasteful, just to start off, while the bass yields some impressive technicality and creativity, and there looms over the whole sound the presence of a Radiohead-esque electronic force. Honestly, until Willet’s falsetto vocals enter the scene, you can hardly believe you are listening to Cold War Kids. It not only makes you love what you’re hearing, but it makes you want to hear what the third album will sound like.
Loyalty to Loyalty definitely pushes forward, though there are rough parts and places where things seem confused. But this band has plenty of time to come together more and create really beautiful music. The music needs to establish its mood in each song, the lyrics need to decide if they will continue diving into characters and telling stories, or step back into the audience and write about subjects and philosophies, or both. And I believe that the songs on this album that are difficult to first enjoy are like that because they’re at a deeper level (not so much pop as the previous album). No worries about the problems though, because even Radiohead had The Bends and Pablo Honey, which are good of course, but we all know they’re nothing compared to Hail to the Thief and OK Computer (not say Cold War Kids should be compared to Radiohead, but you understand the point). They will keep playing and growing and hopefully one day make music that will really stand out, and they always be loyal to that pursuit.