COLD WAR KIDS ENLISTED ON MANY FRONTS, Album Review

Music review: “All This Could Be Yours” by Cold War Kids AND Is Exotic Bait by French Style Furs

Those Cold War Kids have been anything but idle in recent times. Having recently released their new single “All This Could Be Yours” ahead of fifth album, Hold My Home, which is due out 17 October, they have also been announced as a headline act for the Falls Festivals over the Australian summer. For most bands this might be enough but half of the group have also been off working on an interesting side project.

Now in their tenth year together, the indie group burst onto the music scene with their 2006 debut album, Robbers and Cowards. An instant classic with a blues rock sound that felt modern and nostalgic at the same time, this band seemed capable of anything.

Since then, CWK have fashioned three quality albums but have struggled to match the brilliance of that first outing. There has been a familiar pattern to their releases: a high energy lead single that promises much, followed by an album of hits and misses. Over time, the edginess that made their debut material stand out has been eroded.

So, having not yet lived up to their initial promise, is there anything to suggest that the new album might be the one to come up with the goods?

The first single, “All This Could Be Yours” has all the right ingredients: it’s fast paced, with a catchy progression, strong chorus and the signature searching vocal style of front-man, Nathan Willett. What will please loyal fans is the way the track kicks off with strong piano chords, putting it more in the style of Robbers & Cowards than the synth-pop sounds of more recent recordings. But, as encouraging as all this might be, it’s impossible to make any reliable predictions about the album based on the lead single, given the pattern of previous releases.

French Style Furs (source: www.contactmusic.com)
French Style Furs (source: http://www.contactmusic.com)

A more accurate barometer, however, might be found in recent side project, French Style Furs. Somehow, in between recording and performing commitments with CWK, Willett and bassist Matt Maust have joined with Nathan Warkenti (drummer with fellow Californian band We Barbarians) to form an indie rock super-group of sorts.

Working with legendary producer / sound engineer Nick Launay (Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Midnight Oil), the outfit has just released the album Is Exotic Bait. It was all recorded in short time, squeezed in between other musical commitments, giving the project an urgency and a sense of experimentation that has been missing from the more recent CWK work.

An interesting aspect of Is Exotic Bait is the lyrics, taken from the poetry of a Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, an enigmatic 20th century figure whose concerns included social justice and interfaith links with Buddhism. The combination of Catholic poet and indie rock could have produced an anachronistic mess, but it works seamlessly, resulting in a multi-faceted project that rewards with repeated listens.

The album is an experimental affair offering some great moments. Perhaps most significantly it suggests that these guys have rediscovered some of the raw edginess of their earlier work. Launay is the perfect person to bring this out. He is progressive in his sound, but still records to analogue equipment, and has a reputation for capturing bands at their visceral best.

It’s also evident that without expectation that comes with CWK moniker, there is a freedom to experiment with music: creating for the fun of it. This is something that hasn’t been heard in any great measure since the recording of Robbers & Cowards, when there was no expectation to live up to.

This first album is directly referenced in the third track on Is Exotic Bait, “(World In My) Bloodstream”. It begins with a bass-line adapted from their first major single “Hang Me Up To Dry”. The vocals then begin with ‘I lie in my hospital bed…’ reminding us of their other early hit “Hospital Beds”. It’s as if Willett is announcing that they are taking us back to the spirit of that first recording.

While there are obvious similarities though, this is not a CWK recording. There is less guitar, more horns, the presence of affecting backing vocals (supplied by Haley Dekle, Zina Star and Marika Dahlin) and moments of electronica. Even Willett’s vocal performance, though unmistakeable in style, ventures into new territories (most notably exploring his lower register in tracks like “Miami U R About 2 B Surprised”).

So Is Exotic Bait might not give any hint about the future musical directions of CWK, but it does suggest a raw and bold spirit that augers well for the October 17 album release. Aside from any CWK connection though, the French Style Furs’ album is a delightful discovery that stands on its own merits. With some great songs, including highlights “Bloodstream” and “Turn and Burn”, it is definitely worth checking out.

Download “All This Could Be Yours” by Cold War Kids via iTunes or stream it here: https://soundcloud.com/coldwarkids/all-this-could-be-yours

Download Is Exotic Bait by French Style Furs via iTunes or stream the full album here: https://soundcloud.com/frenchstylefurs/sets/is-exotic-bait

Vinyl version (which comes in a funky transparent vinyl) is available to order via: http://frenchkissrecords.bigcartel.com/product/french-style-furs-is-exotic-bait-lp

For details on the Falls Festivals go to: http://www.fallsfestival.com.au/

Reviewed by Matthew Trainor

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