Bands have a relatively short time frame to either make it or break it in the digital age. In this internet fueled era of music, a band can release a killer first album and then by the time the second albums drops, so too does the band drop from a rotation list. 13 years since they started, long beach locals Cold War Kids are still going, surviving the Myspace era, blogging fanatics, streaming services and a couple of lineup changes in between, CWK are about to drop their sixth studio album, L.A Divine, cementing their presence in the music scene.
Photo credit: Cold War Kids by Dan Monick
Cold War Kids the name came from bassist Matt Maust (middle in above image) when he was on a trip in Budapest a few years before the band started. “I was traveling in Eastern Europe with my brother. There’s this big park in Budapest where they dumped all these statues that had been removed after Communism fell. Now it’s just a place where people can go and have picnics. There’s a playground there. So being in that environment just made the phrase ‘Cold War Kids’ pop into my head. I may have heard it before. I’m a cold war kid, too — I was born in 1979. Originally, I used the name for a website I had where I posted art and poems. Then when I started playing music with the guys, they thought it would be a good name for the band, too.” (Spin, 2011).
The band started off in downtown Fullerton, releasing a few EPS and doing local gigs. After switching labels from Monarchy Music to Downtown Records in 2006, they released their debut album, Robbers & Cowards. The blues rock-esk album was unlike other albums coming out in that year, splattered with regretful tales of yesteryear, failures and realisations, the album stood out that year from the likes of The Arctic Monkeys Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, The Kooks Inside In/Inside Out, The Strokes First Impression of Earth and Midlake's The Trials of Van Occupanther. The album was weird, loud and erratic with themes of failure, loss, doubt and regret. The tone was set from from the opening lines of “We Used to Vacation”, “I kissed the kids at noon then stumbled out the room / caught a cab, ran up a tab on 7th and flower/ Beth’s recital I had to run / missed my son’s graduation”. The fictional tales continued throughout "St John" “old Saint John on death row / he’s just waiting for a pardon” and "Hospital Beds" “There’s nothing to do here, some just whine and complain / in bed at the hospital”. Then there are those opening base chords to "Hang Me Up To Dry" which became so recognisable. It’s got this slow head bobbing consistent tempo then that killer chorus opens and you just want to belt out. Apart from the crap review thrown out by Pitchfork (which spread rumours of religious undertones and agendas), the album gained the boys a cult following (no pun intended), hanging on for more music.
Relocating to Long Beach California, CWK got back in the studio with Kevin Augunas, the producer from the first album, and nutted out Loyalty to Loyalty in 2008, a solid follow up album. Changing the theme from metaphorical yesteryear to a narrative present day struggle, Nathan Willet, lead singer, has this way with his words that makes you feel entwined with the fictional characters at the same time as feeling angst for that connection. The tune of the album was more a danceable soul rock vibe than that of Robbers and Cowards. The title Loyalty to Loyalty came from a paper of the same name by American philosopher Josiah Royce, in which he challenged Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas about "will to power" and the übermensch, "saying that the ultimate pursuit of mankind should be to live in community and embrace each other, not to try to trample each other and rise to the top.
Behave Yourself followed in 2009, the band's seventh EP featuring popular track “Audience’. Mine in Yours, the band's third studio album was then released in 2011 and cemented that CWK were no one hit wonders. They showed progression and diversity, moved on from narrative to more autobiographical and abstract. Mine Is Yours followed tales of acceptance and moving on rather than reminiscing and regret. It explored a voice, courage and humanity, all the while keeping an aspect of that feeling of doubt resonated throughout all the CWK albums.
The band's 2013 release, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, opens up with tempo track "Miracle Mile" - a tale of accepting the end, closing some doors, opening others and trying not to drown in the process, “I’ll be alright if I can just see you / come up for air, come up for air”. Willet has said he tried to leave more up to the imagination with this album and tried not to make the stories, or what he was trying to say, so concrete. This album went back more to the erratic and idiosyncratic roots of the bands earlier work and was picked up by people who fell in love with their earlier works.
Hold My Home from 2014 became their most commercially successful album with hit single "First" becoming their highest charting song.
Via their Instagram account a few weeks ago, the band dropped hints of a new song and released single "Love is Mystical" early in February. The forthcoming sixth album L.A Divine is due out April - an impressive feat for a band who supposedly just came together to play music for fun. Despite a long road and a gradual climb, the lads seem quite humble towards their success. They still have this buzz and keenness for making music, touring and playing which we are very much grateful for.