Another day, another band hyped by the blogosphere. Cold War Kids are one of the latest bands to emerge through the joys of the world wide web, to much acclaim and hype. Yet again, one needs to ask the question, are they deserving of this praise? Well…”yes and no”, would be my answer.
On the one hand, they have delivered a very strong debut album. On the other hand, they are not the reincarnation of the Beatles, or here to save rock music. They are quite simply a good band, who have recorded some very good songs. It seems that in this day and age one needs to either love or loathe a record, there is no middle ground. One is not simply allowed to say that a record is “good”, it has to be described in superlatives that not even Jesus at his height of fame would be comfortable with. Not every band can become legendary, you know.
So having got that off my chest, let’s turn our attentions to the album. Robbers and Cowards is the debut album from Cold War Kids. The band hail from California and met while they were studying at an evangelical Christian college. The album is mainly made up of songs which had been previously released on their EPs, with a couple of extra new tracks thrown in. They have however re-recorded and reworked all of their previous songs to some degree.
The music on display is a mix of Beck, Jeff Buckley, Ben Folds, and the White Stripes. However, behind all of this there is a rootsy edge to the music, it feels as if Americana has inspired them at some point, but they are loathe to allow too much of that influence to seep through. It all adds up to a compelling mix of songs. The band’s music is built around demonic piano bashing, guitar riffs and wild and unpredictable changes in tempo. It all works quite well in fact, and taken together create an original sound.
Highlights include the great ‘Hang Me Up to Dry’, a stomp of a tune which seems to get better and better on every listen. ‘We Used to Vacation’ sees the piano take centre stage while the lyrics of the song are at times troubling and at times hilarious. ‘Saint John’ seems to owe a lot to the Raconteurs, and this is no bad thing. ‘Tell Me in the Morning’ repeats the lyrics over and over, the lead singer’s voice wails to an almost uncomfortable level, inspired no doubt by similar musical techniques used by Tapes ‘n Tapes. The poorer songs on display seem to be the two new tracks, ‘Passing the Hat’ and ‘God, Make Up Your Mind’ which feel as if they were tacked on to the album to please older fans who have already got their Up in Rags and With Our Wallets EPs.
All in all, Robbers and Cowards is an excellent debut album. Cold War Kids have delivered a strong collection of tunes with some excellent songs. Their sound is unique among the honour-roll of 2006 bands. Whether the hype will continue remains to be seen (I suspect that it will not), but don’t let that draw you away from the fact that Cold War Kids are an excellent band worth spending time discovering – hype or no hype.