Cold War Kids - “New Age Norms 1” Album Review

Story posted November 8, 2019 in Arts & Entertainment, CommRadio by Jim Krueger

Cold War Kids have been able to stay relevant in the indie rock world for over a decade now, starting with 2006’s “Robbers & Cowards” featuring indie essentials “Hang Me Up To Dry” and “Passing the Hat.” In 2014, they released their album “Hold My Home," followed by 2017’s “LA DIVINE.”

The band sought to continue this relevance with their most recent album, “New Age Norms 1.”

Cold War Kids have survived during this time with a unique sound. Singer Nathan Willett provides intensity to deeply personal lyrics, sung over blues-infused indie rock sound, asound that is a bit louder and more ambitious than most blues rock.

Recently, however, Cold War Kids have shifted slowly towards pop. The band’s last album, “LA DIVINE” saw the band ditch its usual abstract cover art featuring messy handwriting displaying the album title, and going towards a high definition photo of a palm tree with “Cold War Kids” written in clear block lettering.

The change in album artwork was indicative of the shift in sound. The album was a project with an identity crisis. There were the usual blues-rock tracks mixed in with bright and shiny pop tracks featuring clean piano chords. In “New Age Norms 1,” Cold War Kids continue to blend pop and indie/blues rock, but instead of separating the two sounds into different songs, the band has decided to blend them together.

This is overly evident in the opening track “Complainer.” The instrumentals are typical Cold War Kids, but the track is produced like a pop track. The guitar riffs are clean, simplified, and the lyrics are designed to make the song sound like a stadium-filling anthem. The track, like the entire album, is a bit of a mixed bag that doesn’t always work.

Where the sound does work is on the following track, “Fine Fine Fine.” The song starts abruptly with energetic drums and piano reminiscing something from Arcade Fire at their best. Willett provides good lyrics about growing up and becoming more mature. Something tough to accept, especially for a rock star. It’s a theme that was prevalent throughout the album.

In “Fine Fine Fine,” Willett is able to groove with the band very well, something that he is also able to do on the slightly more subdued “Waiting For Your Love.” The lyrics on this track, however, were not as easy to get into, but the song as a whole is quite good.

Unfortunately, the 30-minute album is quite top heavy, and other than the track “4th of July,” Cold War Kids are not able to blend its blues and indie base with its pop ambitions. Much of this has to do with the production.

A bad offender of this is the album’s closer “Tricky Devil.” The song starts with a synth drum beat, awfully reminiscent of something from Joy Division, but once Willett comes in, he is not able to mix well with the somber drum base. When the drums, synth, guitar, and vocals are all going at the same time. The song is a bit of a cacophonous mess that could have been avoided with better mixing and better timing, which is unfortunate because it is a track that has a lot of potential.

Other than that, there’s not much that can really save the album. Other songs like “Calm Your Nerves" fall flat and provided nothing of note. Additionally, “Beyond the Pale” is a piano ballad that is unable to provide any life, whether it comes through good songwriting, interesting added instrumentals, or a compelling crescendo of any kind.

“New Age Norms 1” was a mostly unsuccessful attempt by Cold War Kids to combine its indie-rock past with fun and compelling pop music. Given that this will be the first of three “New Age Norms” albums, it will be interesting to see where Cold War Kids will go.

There is potential for a good album here, which tracks “Fine Fine Fine” and “Waiting For Your Love” proved. If the band is able to clean up the production issues and add elements of pop that provide a bit more life and refinement to a maximalist blues-rock sound, “New Age Norms 2" and 3 could turn out to be really good albums. However, if Cold War Kids put all of its best music into this album, the two upcoming projects could be quite a mess.

Rating: 5/10

Reviewer’s Favorite Song: “Fine Fine Fine”

Reviewer’s Least Favorite Song: “Beyond the Pale”

 

 

Jim Krueger is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email kruegerjim19@gmail.com.