Enough energy to replace your morning cup of coffee
The Cold War Kids are back with their second album release in their latest trilogy, and chaos junkies will be ecstatic to hear what the band has put together in New Age Norms 2. With raw, commanding vocals and a variety of upbeat, synthesized instruments taking the spotlight in each track, the new album is brimming with enough energy to caffeinate whoever is willing to take a moment to listen. The band, consisting of Nathan Willett (lead vocals, piano, guitar, percussion), Matt Maust (bass), Joe Plummer (drums, percussion), Matthew Schwartz (keyboard, guitar, percussion, backing vocals) and David Quon (guitar, backing vocals) have improved by every measure compared to their previous release in the trilogy. Artistically, New Age Norms 2 explores a more tangible theme, though subtly, across each track. The attention to lyricism and truly harmonizing each element at play allowed for an overall more sincere, though at times repetitive, new album.
For the passive listener, it may be difficult to discern the themes that are explored in New Age Norms 2 as the vigor of the lively music itself may distract from its lyrical messages. Yet, if explored closely, an interesting pattern emerges in each song: exploring the profound nature of individualism. In the first track “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now,” the band blends guitar, keyboard and synthesizer to create a buoyant feeling as Willett sings “I’m going down, down down, I wonder who’s gonna love me now.” The song explores the positives and negatives associated with attaining personal freedom and yet still feeling a lack of self-love or the loneliness that can be attached to deep personal discovery.
The pattern subtly continues, as the second track (“Obsession”), heavy with exciting guitar riffs and stressed vocals, deliver lyrics like “your family will never understand/ they only care about you,” as Willett continues to sing about wanting to lead the misunderstood life of an artist—even if it separates him from family—because he is staying true to himself. Each song explores this unique idea that self-discovery and listening to oneself can actually be lonely, isolating and at times a negative experience, but also ensures to appreciate both sides of the coin. The song “Ceiling Fan” creates a feeling of euphoria as Willett sings “we’re dancing on the nightstand/ let the music take over/ we will never get over” as the keyboard and guitar that are prominently featured create swells of sound that invokes an acceptance of the self and present moment.
Many of the songs on New Age Norms 2 sound like something that would play as the main characters of an indie movie drove off into the sunset. With the strong, stressed vocals set to prominent keyboards, synthesized bells and acrobatic guitar work in practically every song, the liveliness ultimately inspires positive feelings within the listener though the lyrics may be more emotionally nuanced. However, with only eight tracks on the album, this type of energy quickly becomes repetitive.
The most compelling tracks on the album may actually be “Across the Divide” and “Catch Me Falling,” where the band is unafraid to be more raw, dark and emotional. Particularly in “Catch Me Falling,” is much slower, and uses fewer instruments compared to the rest of the track. A slow melodic piano stands as the sole opener to Willett’s soulful, slower vocals that truly allow authentic emotion to be infused in the song. By slowing the tempo down, Cold War Kids eliminates the business found in most of their songs and showcases how lyrically, vocally and instrumentally talented they can truly be. Frankly, the Cold War Kids would likely be more successful if they continued down this track. Not to say the rest of the album was not enjoyable, but nothing held a candle to the genius of “Catch Me Falling.” Rather than trying to harmonize every instrument at once, the piano, synthesizer, vocals and other elements slowly work together and are independently showcased to create a more digestible experience for the listener.
The Cold War Kids ultimately explored a fascinating theme in New Age Norms 2, as oftentimes the drawbacks of individualism are rarely explored. There is no doubt that the band is talented, yet listeners may be left with wanting more after experiencing what the band was capable of with “Catch Me Falling,” in comparison to the rest of the songs on the album. The Cold War Kids may benefit from learning that intensity is not required to make a good song, and intensity can become repetitive after a while even if each song on its own is good. The third album in the series is definitely something to look forward to, and hopefully, Cold War Kids will continue to improve and evolve their sound with each new release.