Go big or go home isn’t the dominant sentiment that Cold War Kids’ lead vocalist Nathan Willett uses to describe the making of New Age Norms 1.
“We used a lot of the same people for the production; there were just some changes in the approach,” he says. “It’s very natural for me to want to stack more vocals onto parts of a song and to layer things and make things enormous — that feels very natural to me.”
The record, which came out on November 1, is the first in a trilogy. Willett says they’re happy with the results and excited that this tour will give them a chance to “introduce these songs” to fans on tour, including during their show at The Van Buren on Thursday, November 14.
“The overall tone seems a little different,” he says. “Maybe that’s just from it being a bit cleaner and tighter. Smaller is a good way to describe it.”
What it also sounds like is a solid tribute to funk. The band have always maintained a soulful component in their music. But make no mistake, New Age Norms 1 jumps out of the realm of the indie-rock sound of releases like 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts.
The evolution works. The record offers a sense of contentment that can accompany taking risks. Willett says that touching on different genres is one of his favorite parts of the whole package.
“We were on tour last summer, and I was thinking about the next project and having a lot of ideas,” he says. “As the years go by, I want us to try and reflect the diverse sounds that interest us. One of the things I like best about us is that we aren’t bound by genre, and we hope that’s what makes fans want to stay with us. We want to keep pushing and spreading our wings.”
“The Complainer,” the album’s opening track, has a funked-up groove that hooks you while staying steady and minimal. The vocals deliver the message that you can’t change the world without changing yourself first, emphasizing the futility in sitting around and complaining.
“Waiting for Your Love” has a slick opening that conjures the disco-meets-R&B sound of The Spinners’ 1979 version of “Working My Way Back to You.”
The sparsity of “Tricky Devil” offers a haunting exit. The short-and-steady drumbeat is reminiscent of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Willett thinks it’s a bit like Joy Division. “I like that it’s got a different feel from some of the other songs,” he says.
Self-reflection informs how the group are addressing current issues. Not ones to shy away from political statements, Cold War Kids are interested in boiling things down to an individual level.
“I know that I, personally, am trying to think always about how I can be a better version of myself, and I think with everything going on in the world, a lot of people are self-reflecting,” says Willett. “So, when writing these recent songs, I asked myself, ‘Do I want this to be outwardly political or personal?’ and I probably leaned on the personal a bit more, always with a goal, though, of wanting to have an effective message.”
Cold War Kids are scheduled to perform on Thursday, November 14, at The Van Buren. Tickets are $26 to $28 via TicketWeb.