Nathan Willett of Cold War Kids says that when it came time to make the band's new record, the forthcoming Dear Miss Lonely Hearts (due April 2), they decided to play less to what the band "should be" and more to what it "could be."
"I feel like we started to do that with the last album [2011's Mine is Yours]," he says. "But we continued on with this record."
The shift meant some shakeups. Guitarist Jonathan Russell departed and in stepped Dann Gallucci, formerly of Modest Mouse. Gallucci joined Lars Stalfors in producing Dear Miss Lonely Hearts, and his passion for synth-pop marks some clear departures for the band.
The pulsing "Lost That Easy" could almost serve as the band's (unexpected) entrance into the world of club music, while "Loner Phase" taps into gothy Depeche Mode drama, with pulsing synths, a John Hughes-ready bass beat, and stark guitars. "Bottled Affection" builds itself on a bed of warbling synth swoons before a stutter-step beat takes the thing into New Order territory. "I met match, so why am I proud?" Willett pleads, before noting: "You get older, it gets worse."
While Mine Is Yours received critical lashings for its arena-rock ambitions (some reviews even mentioned bands as lamestream as Train and Creed), the stylistic ambitions of Dear Miss Lonely Hearts sound less like bids for a mainstream breakthrough and more like earnest experimentation.
There's "Tuxedos," a soulful strut of a ballad featuring singer/songwriter/Shins member Richard Swift, with grooving sock hop melodies and swirling Laurel Canyon keys. Willett sounds desperate in the role, singing about how "tuxedos don't discriminate." Occasionally, the band reaches back towardWar
-era U2-style rock, like the sky-scraping "Jailbirds."
Willett says that past records drew inspiration from the films of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen ("His darker stuff, like Husbands and Wives."). With the new record, he invokes the name of another filmmaker, P.T. Anderson, whose films like Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, and The Master "deal with morality in a way that transcends religion," a topic frequently associated with Cold War Kids.
When the band plays with straight-ahead abandon, like on lead single "Miracle Mile," it sounds triumphant, even if the lyrics -- concerning a vaguely nasty character out of an Anderson flick -- exemplify Willett's short-fiction ambitions. "I was supposed to do great things," Willett howls over charging guitars. "I cut my ties I sold me rings, I wanted none of this."
Cold War Kids are scheduled to perform at Carnaval Eléctrico at Crescent Ballroom on Friday, March 8.
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