Cold War Kids reaffirms their unmistakable sound yet again with a strong collection of tracks on their latest release LA River.
Lead singer Nathan Willet’s voice separates the California band within the indie rock sphere. His impressive and versatile range serves especially well on LA River. With a complex mix of instrumentals, particularly their prominent piano, subtle synth and rich array of vocals, no one has a sound quite like Cold War Kids.
LA River starts with “Love is Mystical.” The opening chords are reminiscent of an old 2006 CWK favorite, “Hospital Beds.” It’s a strong opening track with an upbeat nature that highly contrasts with the following song on the album.
“Can We Hang On?” begins with Willet’s slow, syncopated vocals that sound as if he’s gasping out for air — but it’s appropriate given the lyrics. “I come here nine times asking you to not make it ten / I’m peeling off all the honor and protecting my skin.”
Willet’s impressive falsetto catches the listener by surprise, but his vocals are buttery smooth. In this particular track, he has a hint of a country-like twang as he swings into his higher-pitched verses — but it works. One of the strongest tracks on the album, “Can We Hang On?” concludes with background vocals from what could have been a solemn choir, resolving in chilling harmonies but with an ambience of hope.
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“So Tied Up” follows, opening with Cold War Kids’ familiar piano chords that seem to be an integral part to their signature sound. Rhythmic clapping substitutes some of the percussion in this track and accompanies isolated vocals during certain parts of the song. In “Restless,” Willet sounds more raw and vulnerable as the track peels away a layer of instrumentals. Willet’s falsetto combined with the plucking of low strings is enough to send a shiver up the spine.
Cold War Kids has a distinct sound across their tracks, yet they’re an example of a band that manages to keep all of their songs from sounding similar. During some of their tracks on LA River — like “Open Up the Heavens” and “Luck Down” — Willet’s demonstration of his lower register sounds like Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. It pleasantly takes the listener by surprise.
Though LA River hosts a strong array of tracks, the album isn’t short of some avant garde musical style. The album’s title track, just over a minute long, opens with bizarre vocals and guitar with head-scratching dissonance. The lyrics are incomprehensible and require Google to translate: “On the LA River, I know it’s familiar / But tell me why you wanna stay in New York, but you don’t know anyone / And you can’t find the right chord / On the LA River.”
The placement of “LA River” in the middle of the album is strange, as it would have served better as an intro track — but the song isn’t the only one of its kind on the album. The 36 second long “Cameras On” provides a haunting set of piano chords with Willet’s vocals singing “I want to be famous in your eyes, but the camera’s always on.”
Finally, “Wilshire Protest” isn’t a song so much as a message. Listeners are inclined to believe the track references the anti-Trump protest following the 2016 presidential election on California’s Wilshire Boulevard. Willett does not sing, but he speaks. “I am marching with the protest. I got so much to say, but I’m only here to witness.” It becomes more and more difficult to hear him as the background guitar and “da da da” vocals begin to drown him out.
Despite the random placement of some unconventional tracks, Cold War Kids impresses with a strong new album. Listeners can chalk them up to some out-of-the-box artistic expression, but can dance and shout-sing the rest of LA River, guaranteed.