In 2006, So-Cal band Cold War Kids released their debut LP Robbers and Cowards, an album whose pop driven instrumentals created an unlikely home for lead vocal Nathan Willet’s folky, blues infused singing. This brighter, formulaic sound coupled with the driven delivery and at times disconsolate subject matter and lyrical style garnered a certain amount of acclaim, both from critics and fans.
Through the years and with subsequent releases, a departure from their original, gritty sound to a more accessible one can be heard. Favoring the vocal production and patterned instrumentation of pop-style music to the less refined sound the band began with and spurred on by the popular reception their new sound was accruing them (chart positions rose higher with every consecutive release) the band further refined and brightened their sound. This drive towards pop reached a fever pitch with the album Mine Is Yours, a mainstream success which was met with a lukewarm reception, many felt the band had completely abandoned their roots, foregoing that which made them unique for a greater fan base and a generally more available sound.
This backlash apparently struck home with the band. While not completely abandoning the more recent turns they had made in their sound, a listen to Dear Miss Lonelyhearts shows a revival of Willet’s soulful delivery and melancholy lyricism. The leading track, “Miracle Mile”, is an upbeat and forceful track with lyrics that give a nod towards the imprecise art of making decisions and the possible changes that result. While much of the music bears resemblance to their previous releases, the album’s title track carries an if not striking resemblance, then at least a palpable similarity to earlier work in both subject and style, taking the form of a stark, wistful sounding ballad which brings a feeling of melancholy to the album that was pervasive in their earlier LP’s.
As an album, however, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts appears to fall flat. Even the upbeat power of “Miracle Mile” begins to fade into grey as the backdrop of the album seems unvarying throughout its play. Musically, the album underwhelms as the produced and overly clean new sound of Cold War Kids creates a blaze effect; that is, nothing stands out due to a reliance on a single style. As a result, the album seems largely devoid of the creative spark and soul of earlier work. The album isn’t all a wash, though. The band is developing a new sound, and while they may still be searching for some balance between old and new I applaud them for recognizing the good and the bad and trying to find a noise that allows them to create and progress as a band, all while remaining relevant to a larger audience.
RIYL: Local Natives, Ra Ra Riot, and Broken Bells
Key Tracks: Miracle Mile, Jailbirds, and Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
Listen to the full album stream here: