About a year and a half ago, I went to a Cold War Kids concert with some of my friends. In one of the band’s most popular songs, “Hang Me Up To Dry”, there is a deliberately off-putting sequence of piano chords. A friend who wasn’t familiar with the band thought that they had messed up, and I had to explain that it was an artistic choice.
Cold War Kids has just released their fifth album, Hold My Home, and this time I can’t use the same excuse to justify their mistakes.
Simply put, the album relies too much on the voice of Nathan Willett. Willett’s voice is for the most part very good, but it can’t carry the album by itself. Far too often a song will consist mostly of Willett singing over a repetitive beat. By far the worst example of this is “Harold Bloom”, where a simple piano and drum melody goes on for four minutes without change. Similar problems are found in “Nights & Weekends” and “Flower Drum Song”, with the repetition of the phrases “here she comes” and “flower drum song” respectively.
The band also tries to move in a new direction with their music. They stray from the strong piano riffs that characterized their earlier music and move to heavy synthesizer use. Unfortunately, the synth gives a cheesy 80s vibe that doesn’t mesh well with Cold War Kids’ indie rock sound. “Hear My Baby Call” actually uses both synth and piano together, which works quite well, though it is the only song to do so.
The other new musical twist is the occasional use of louder, hard rock guitar and drums. The band actually have some success with this on songs like “First” and “Hold My Home”, and it gives some support for the vocals to lean on. However, it isn’t used often enough to make up for the album’s widespread shortcomings.
Cold War Kids deserve some respect for their ambition in taking their music in a new direction; it just unfortunately doesn’t pan out well. A far too heavy reliance on Willett’s voice and awkward and overabundant synthesizer use do more harm than good, and in the end Hold My Home is little more than a disappointment.
Voice’s Choices: “Hear My Baby Call”, “First”
Photo: Secret Sound Shop, Maple Music Recordings