Cold War Kids – ‘New Age Norms Vol. 1’

By Fiachra Johnston

It’s hard to not hear the influence of Cold War Kids on modern rock. The indie quartet from Long Beach have had a hand in the sound of indie since the turn of the millennium, and love them or hate them in the modern day, they are an important part of rock history. The pure hungriness of their 2006 breakout ‘Robbers & Cowards’ shaped indie rock for the next decade, and while nothing has quite topped that historic lightning in a bottle, their newest release ‘New Age Norms, Vol. 1’ feels as close to their soul-fueled debut as it gets.

From the opening CHIC influenced lead single ‘Complainer’, to the soft ballad performance of ‘Beyond The Pale’ and the indie-heavy closing ‘Tricky Devil’, this record goes through a few costume changes throughout, but retains an underlying relaxed feeling to it all. This is not a hectic Monday morning drive of a record, but a slow cruise through the boulevard at sunset. The thick bass lines and high keys of the album, prominent in ‘Waiting For Your Love’ feel almost 80s funk-inspired at times, and are a step above the West Coast style rock of previous album ‘LA Divine’.

Indeed, ‘New Age Norms’ feels far more piano driven than their previous album at times, but even more surprising is the album’s ability to echo the sounds of ‘Robber & Cowards’ without necessarily sounding like a rehash or cheap retread. There are classic riffs that will feel ripped from the 2000s, but they’re mastered next to grooving basslines and high vocal lines and synths. It’s less pop rock a la Imagine Dragons, more soulful indie, and it all comes across much more natural than the last few works – as though the band have found a comfort zone long lost to them. These soul influences may turn off some, but they feel more organic than some of the other instrumental experiments Cold War Kids have performed in the past.

It helps that, at least in terms of technicality and performance, Cold War Kids are effectively immortal. Nathan Willett’s voice seems impervious to age, as he sounds as he did in 2006, with one of the most impressive ranges in the game and a jack of all trades instrumentally. Matt Maust shows off his tenure with a stellar bass performance that helps draw the album together thematically. Aiding in guitars, keyboard, vocals, and percussion, Matthew Schwartz blends into the background of each song, but his presence is felt throughout in the small details of the production, while guitarist David Quon and former Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer step up their game significantly this go around.

‘New Age Norms’ is Cold War Kids broken down and simplified, a nostalgic echo of what four friends making music in an apartment in Fullerton accomplished fifteen years ago. It’s the best they’ve sounded in a long while – and should Volume 2 be in the works, it has a fantastic companion album to work from.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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