Cold War Kids are an easily identifiable band. Lead singer Nathan Willett’s voice is undeniably original; it’s almost like he’s just a man who lives in your cd player and shouts at you, but he carries each tune remarkably well. It often means that the singing is at the forefront of each track, and the music is incidental to him belting out another tale of woe and breaking your heart. Not to say the music is in any way bad—it isn’t—but that the piano and guitar and drums are secondary to the vocals, but not in an Australian-Idol-money-note kind of way, just like it is a beautiful instrument on its own. This, their newest EP, has tracks written previous to the last release but that felt special enough to get released on their own; it’s four songs that deserve to be heard.
“Audience” starts off reliably, as I’ve come to expect from Cold War Kids, a band that has yet to let me down. It builds from relative softness and then gets a little harder and grittier, evoking earlier tracks like “Saint John”, where you can feel despair through the piano’s rough notes and lead singer Nathan Willett’s singing “windshield wipers waving for an audience of one”. The bridge is quite lovely, a sweet, melodic segue that for once is allowed to shine over the vocals. It’s a great track that leaves me all upset that EP releases usually mean a band can dawdle on releasing a full-length album for a bit longer. I imagine them scheming, “Haha! Let us release an EP and fool the world!”
“Coffee Spoon” is a warm, full track that relies more heavily on guitar than many other CWK tracks, along with a steady drum beat and some delicate crooning in the background. Keyboards are soft in this song, but they have found enough with the instruments they chose to fill out this song, so it does give you a cosy, enclosed coffee bar kind of feel.
“Santa Ana Winds” is a more similar throwback to older tracks, not quite as raucous as some but still building into something. It’s a short track and a shout out to a place they must love; if you lived where you could feel Santa Ana winds you would probably get a bit giddy from the familiarity: “Take the elevator to the Getty’s highest place, see the cliffs fall to sea, do an about face. Easter on Olvera Street...” and so on.
If it weren’t for the star power of the previous three songs, I could have been a bit stern-faced regarding “Sermons”. Not that it’s not a good track—of course it is—but it is a pared-back version of the track “Sermon vs the Gospel”, a hidden track from their album Robbers and Cowards, so it’s verging on cheating. As he croons, “Lord have mercy on me”, I assume he’s really talking about his listeners. And despite being familiar with the song—we did have Robbers and Cowards on high rotation for a while there—this version still held up, and felt legitimate on its own, so much so that it took me a while to recognise it beyond a faint feeling of familiarity and happiness. It’s not a rocking track, for sure; it’s more the kind of pace you would imagine from a song called “Sermons” where the Lord is mentioned. You can imagine that the Lord’s probably up there grumbling that at least they weren’t so damn loud and angry with this track but could they keep it down anyway, these cold war kids of today etc. The lyrics “I believe the words will change the heart” are sung during this song; a sentiment I really quite adore, and if I was the kind of person who tattooed lyrics upon myself I could see them there (right next to ones I would now regret, like “Won’t you take me to a Funky Town?” and “Mmmmmm Mmmmm” and, for kicks, the All Saints’ most beautifully poetic lyrics, “The way I’m feeling yeah you got me feeling really bad”.)
This indie rock band will continue to be played in this house, and forthcoming albums to be written in my diary (should I continue to use one and not just lose it one day when I am searching through my handbag for that last five cents for my tram ticket, as usually happens.) The scratchiness of the lead singer may turn you off at first, but don’t give up; they are a great, clever band that deserve much fame and love, especially lead singer Nathan as, let’s face it, he’s cute.