Strolling through a park in Budapest, Hungary, bassist Matt Maust observed a number of dumped statues from a time when communism reigned and tensions throughout the world were high. It was this imagery, combined with that of a lonely playground, that inspired him to come up with the name for his soon to be internationally recognized indie rock band, Cold War Kids.
The tension illustrated by the bands name is reflected in their debut album ‘Robbers and Cowards’. Instrumentation can go from catchy and pop sensible to a cacophony of piano and distorted guitars without warning. The guitar solo in ‘We Used to Go on Vacation’ resembles that of Neil Young in the song ‘Down By the River’. They stick with a melodic idea, but they sound hardly organized. Like they’re made tastefully without any effort. The piano in the post chorus of the single ‘Hang Me Out to Dry’ follows the same sort of theme. Its like the musical equivalent to a highly skilled paint splatter artist whose canvas is framed with gold. Gritty in sound with a high quality, clean finish.
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One of the most compelling aspects of ‘Robbers and Cowards’ is the interesting and troubling imagery delivered by Nathan Willet’s lyrics. Though he is a christian, every song on this album seems to follow a character who struggles with their morals in one way or another. ‘We Used to Go on Vacations’ follows a father who promised his family he would “never touch another drink”, which he clearly has not kept. ‘Hospital Beds’ illustrates the “joy and misery” shared between two hospital patients. It reminds us that, even in the most dire of times, we need to find something to be joyful about. These are only a few examples from an album littered with stories of struggles with faith, morals, and circumstance.
Though the band is mostly recognized as an indie rock band, this album dips into a number of genre’s and styles. From Americana and blues rock to even some country or saloon style vibes, this album has some really interesting mixtures. The song ‘God, Make Up Your Mind’ almost sounds like a Radiohead song from back in the day of ‘The Bends’. Beautiful melodies supported by a bed of harmonies make up a soothing verse about a child’s struggle going on a road trip with a step-father. It sounds like it will be a ballad, but is suddenly interrupted by a dissonant and jarring chorus illustrating the narrators frustrations.
Cold War Kids have, since this album, gone in a far more mainstream direction, but they will always have this eclectic mix of indie and rock styles to look back on. They are still a band worthy of the ticket price, but the bar for originality for the Cold War Kids is still set by ‘Robbers and Cowards’.