02 February 2007

Cold War Kids / Robbers and Cowards / Downtown Records [2006]

Cold War Kids' set at last summer's Lollapalooza displayed their raw magnetism. As the only band on the expansive bill without a full length album, their pre-set draw paled in comparison to the legions assembled to throw a heckle toward Jordan Catalano, grown up and in the flesh. Then the electric piano started pulsing, glass bottles became percussion and by the end of their set, a collection of rubbernecking passerby's had become converts to the new sect of indie rock.

The first full-length after a collection of three independently released EPs, Robbers and Cowards, may not match the live show's energy step for step, yet in twelve songs Cold War Kids cement themselves as a band to keep an eye on; climbing above blog buzz to ascend to the top of a Modest Mouse/Talking Heads inspired crop of indie rookies. With only two unreleased songs, both frequent in the live show, the record remains merely a greatest hits collection to those following the band for any amount of time, but to those unfamiliar with the gospel of this Long Beach quartet, the full length does its job and then some. Even the old faithfuls of the EPs sounds crisp and full as a result of updated production and from the first shake of a maraca in the disc's opening track, Cold War Kids fight for your attention.

Whether in the first person, gin soaked confessional of "We Used to Vacation" or the bed-ridden ballad "Hospital Beds", lead singer Nathan Willet embodies his characters and personalities in an alarming Isaac Brock/Bob Dylan hybrid. Too often written off as derivative, the band holds no reservations in its references to the music that has inspired them, even paying deliberate homage to Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" as Willet breaks meter to shout about giving a check to "tax deductible charity organizations."

The single "Hang Me Up to Dry" shows the band's penchant for a steady buildup, as fuzz bass, out of tune keys and jangly guitars culminate in Willet's accappella howl: Hang me out to dry/I'm pearl like the white-wh-whites of your eyes. Backing his enunciated, outlaw-like delivery is a tight and deliberate rhythm section who carry the southern hymnal-tinged "Saint John" and force a foot-stomp/hand-clap vibe throughout the album's 52 minutes.

In all, Cold War Kids, save the kitschy name, shake all preconceptions about an LA band's leather pants and sequin jacket laced egos. Instead, Cold War Kids embody a working class band complete with thrift store garb and sounding just how they appear: hip, with a subtle swagger. As a welcome introduction, Robbers and Cowards is a debut with the confidence of a veteran act that has paid its dues. As an archetype or poster child for a new era of music, where the internet negates the need for a tour van and gradually building a fan-base in favor of readymade "It" bands, Cold War Kids bring the best of both worlds. With three EPs under their belt and having proven themselves in the live arena, Robbers and Cowards is a clear example in the lesson of "Shut up and listen."

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