A year and a half after releasing Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, The Cold War Kids return with their fifth full-length album, Hold My Home. Though not as comprehensive or thematically dedicated as their 2013 loosely based concept album, Hold My Home blends a solid collection of songs, balancing the band’s winning brand of soulfully stirring ballads with triumphant rock anthems.
The fifth album marks a continued dedication from the Long Beach band as they enter their next decade of making music. However, the Cold War Kid’s longevity milestone didn’t come without a toll on the lineup. Earlier this year, the original foursome’s founding drummer, Matt Aveiro, left the band. His parting follows guitarist/pianist Jonnie Russell’s departure in early 2012. The core of the Cold War Kids now lies in frontman musician Nathan Willett and bassist Matt Maust, along with guitarist Dann Gallucci and drummer Joe Plummer, both of whom played significant stints in the often revolving Modest Mouse lineup. Recent touring multi-instrumentalist, Matthew Schwartz, is also now featured as an official member of the 2014 Cold War Kids roster.
Of course, band member jostling is never a confident indicator of a band’s continued success, but the real answer is how a band responds to those changes. On the first album since Russells’ departure, 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, the new lineup achieved an encompassing, touching and grand sound. I hailed Dear Miss Lonelyhearts as the Cold War Kid’s strongest album to date, and ranked it 6th in my top albums of 2013. It was going to be a tough album to top, but Hold My Home is by no means a misstep. Instead it’s more of a reestablishing of footing, especially in the wake of another band member departure.
Much in the way “Miracle Mile” kicked off Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, the lively and upbeat “All This Could Be Yours” begins Hold My Home with a charging burst and catchy hook. “First” maintains the momentum, igniting the album with a clap-paced sing-along. Both tunes show off the band’s career-long consistency of delivering engaging, radio-ready hits.
On “Go Quietly,” the low-fi punk strumming intro gives the track a sexy, fun rhythm and the tune doesn’t let up from there. It’s another exciting, arching anthem for the Cold War Kids, but this one is tenser. The intro sparks a defining edge on “Go Quietly,” and even though the chorus captures that charming pop arrangement, the track maintains a gritty charge from start to finish. ” Hot Coals” features a similar wonderful and jittery tone. “I suspect the reason I am loved/ Is because of how tight I’m holding on” Willett sings on the beleaguered track.
The fast-paced revelries have always been a part of the Cold War Kids arsenal, however, the empathetic poignancy and soulful depth always seem to shine brightest on the slower, blues-drenched tunes. In this respect, “Harold Bloom” is a standout on Hold My Home. Built off an instrumentally sparse arrangement, Willett commands the track with his insistent discourse and bellowing cries. “So don’t lift your heroes up so high/ That you can’t touch/ Don’t let your innocence go dry before the flood,” he painstaking preaches in the song’s closing lines. The more immediate “Hear My Baby Call” enchants much of the same soulful turmoil. However, in his reflection of the personal longing of lost love, Willett’s sincerely captures the restless uncertainty (“Can you hold onto, if it meant you’d lose control of everything else?”)
Hold My Home is a solid fifth album in a time when many bands don’t make it to five. Just this past July, Willett and Maust, along with We Barbarians’ Nathan Warkentin, released Is Exotic Bait as the side-project band French Style Furs. The album explored sounds and writing much more avant-garde and experimental than the Cold War Kids’ more traditional brand of alternative rock. I listened to Is Exotic Bait a handful of times, but could never get into it. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy that type of music, and I welcome and completely understand musicians wanting to explore different sounds, projects or collaborations. But, with Willett and Maust, I don’t think it gets any better than the Cold War Kids. They do it too well. They put too much into it. Long Beach soul is their winning sound and who could possibly do it better?