[SPECIAL NOTE: When this review was first published on Tuesday, we received- and complied with- a cease and desist letter from GrayZone, a “high-tech internet investigations” squad with an extremely shitty low-tech website that looks like it was designed in 1994 by one of your buddies. More on that here. Anyway, today, we’re saying: Fuck it. This is not copyright infringement.]
When the Cold War Kids delivered the one-two debut punch of their Mulberry Street and Our Wallets Full EPs roughly five years ago, the waters quickly filled with label piranhas, blogger bestowments of “New Rock Messiahs” and other such nonsense. But the Cold War Kids opted to sign with indie crew Downtown Records (home to Gnarls Barkley and Art Brut) for the release of their their 2006 LP Robbers And Cowards. Over pounding, bass-driven, piano-laced beats and a thick mystic atmosphere, singer Nathan Willett conjured the Baptist soul man within to spin tales of drunks and rapists, of the terminally ill and the men who stole money from church collection plates. It was a raucous affair, with crisp, minimalistic production, that also happened to be one of the best white-boy soul-rock records released in recent memory.
On Loyalty To Loyalty, the drinks are a little stronger, the atmosphere’s a little thicker, and one thing is perfectly clear- the Cold War Kids have carved out a formula that works, and it works damn well. The album is certainly true to form lyrically, with tales of suicide (Golden Gate Jumpers), domestic violence (Every Man I Fall For) and frantic attempts to hide your own insanity (Something Is Not Right With Me), among other cheerful things.
The album makes a deceptively jazzy, upbeat and sparse first impression. Bluesy and breathy, there’s an instantly comfortable warmth in Loyalty. The vocals are a little lower in the mix, but Willett’s bluesy howl still fills the sails well.
The piano-funk jam Every Valley Is Not A Lake is alone worth the entry fee; it’s the perfect counterpart to songs like Hang Me Out To Dry and Saint John. I caught the band’s fantastic set to a packed house at SxSw last year, and the crowd was by far the most enthusiastic I’d seen all week, especially during those two songs. Oddly though, the biggest reception of the night was for the new song Every Valley Is Not A Lake, which wouldn’t see the light of day for another year and a half. The band got just as riled up, too: during their cover of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, the stage turned into a vagabond dance-a-thon, arms over shoulders, the entire band swinging around like drunk sailors. Or maybe that was during Saint John. Hell, I was drunk. Good times either way. Free ice-cream on the way out, too.
I remember the breakdown to Every Valley, though- it was one of those epic show moments, where no matter how drunk or high or squashed you are, you’re in total ecstasy, tuned into whatever frequency is thrashing wildly about around you. It was a gorgeous drunken barroom sway, thousands deep, rockin’ in rivers of sweat:
Don’t ever think about comin’ round here
With that junior from up the street
His sneakers squeakin’ on the kitchen tile, hat pulled below his eyes
That boy is trouble in his sleep
You got your father’s reckless charm, babe
Long as you’re givin’, somebody take
Every sermon is not the gospel, babe
But let me put it in another way
Every valley is not a lake
The song kicks back in with new life, a revitalized beat driving the song out. No quarter is given though, as Something Is Not Right With Me takes off, a Keith Richards riff chopping along with singer Nathan Willett’s frantic syncopation. He conjures David Byrne directly in delivery with the triple repetition of Crash into the people who’re sleepin’ late into the evening / Reach behind they can hardly find their spines. It couldn’t possibly be an unconscious likeness, and, given that benefit of the doubt, it makes for an awesome stylistic nod that perfectly fits the piece.
The drum solo opening to Welcome To The Occupation evokes a tribal groove, and the voodoo magic springs to life immediately. Telling the tale of a deadly ambitious corporate climber contemplating the killing of the company king, it’s Willett’s quivering moments of higher register vocalization that sets him apart as a singer, and his melodic design uses the backbeats and instrumental strengths to compliment the parts rather than stomp over them with frontman flagrancies. His ability to keep his melodies measured does the atmosphere well, which makes him all the more convincing as a man possessed, bleating the Devil’s in the details, the Devil’s in the detaaaaails! with persuasive possession.
Golden Gate Jumpers is a drunken storytellers affair, a downtempo jam, nicely paired with the ballady Avalanche In B, a hypnotically slow, percussive stumble through a china shop of piano keys. The image of a drunk Willett, crooning while watching the street from the fire escape, waiting for a savior, gives way to I’ve Seen Enough.
The voodoo mystique and rhythmic gravity is strong enough that I’d have put money on these guys being from the swamps of New Orleans, if I didn’t already know that they’re from Fullerton, CA. But none of that shit matters- all you need to know is that this record is awesome.
Loyalty To Loyalty
September 23, 2008
1. Against Privacy
2. Mexican Dogs
3. Every Valley Is Not A Lake
4. Something Is Not Right With Me
5. Welcome To The Occupation
6. Golden Gate Jumpers
7. Avalanche In B
8. I’ve Seen Enough
9. Every Man I Fall For
10. Dreams Old Men Dream
11. On The Night My Love Broke Through
P.S. We’re always on the lookout for cool shit, especially when it pertains to music. If you want a good idea of who these guys are, check this out. It’s dated, but it’s a good first impression of the band’s personality.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.