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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Cold War Kids
Robbers & Cowards

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

October 3, 2006
The Cold War Kids hype train is comin' round the bend - the latest buzz band has released its debut full-length Robbers & Cowards - stick 'em up! Sounding like they just stumbled out of a saloon in Tombstone, Arizona, the Kids are alright. With cues from New York's finest lo-fi aficionados, The Walkmen, the album was mixed by Dave Sardy who turned knobs on Bows + Arrows.The similarities in style are present throughout: far-flung guitars, healthy doses of upright piano, and an ambiance as if recorded live with vintage equipment.

Live is a good place to start with Cold War Kids. I saw them this past summer opening for Tapes 'N Tapes at a small club/art gallery where they whipped up the sizeable crowd with one knockout punch after another. Like a young Bruce Springsteen, front man Nathan Willett restlessly moves around stage like a Kid that can't sit still, jumping from piano to lead vocals to wherever else he ends up. His cohorts - Matt Aveiro, Matt Maust and Jonnie Russell - are equally engaging, clearly feeding off his frenetic energy. This foursome doesn't overreach, their soul is bona fide; based on their live status and rapidly sprouting following they were invited to play Lollapalooza prior to even releasing a long-player.

Undoubtedly this begs the question of just how well a band backs up its preceding live rep on their debut album. Some great live acts can have two facets, the stage and studio. A band like Arcade Fire may perform like a hyper bunch of post-punk pranksters, but on record will employ strings, choruses, and studio mastery to produce a far more majestic result. With Cold War Kids it seems the goal was to capture their animated essence on disc and the album has a tangible energy to it. Most tracks follow a formulaic approach of a bluesy template, rock instruments banging away the 4/4 tempo, and Willett singing like a less intense version of Hamilton Leithauser. One may think they've heard some of these songs before, they have an echo of familiarity from past troubadours of this turf.

Album icebreaker "We Used to Vacation" starts with a determined piano and drum riff. Alas it's nearly identical to the opener of Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary, but progresses into a generic bluesy number, an underwhelming choice of a lead-in song. The next track "Hang Me Up to Dry" is a greater indication of what the band is capable of and would have been a stronger introduction. A reverberating bass that's deeper than a bayou swamp cuts the way for a slightly sinister Willett, "Careless in our summer clothes/ Splashing around in the muck and the mire." Belting out "Now hang me up to dry/ You rung me out too too too many times" over jangled guitars and dissonant piano arpeggios spikes the sauce to sizzling.

The rest of the record contains a few nondescript tracks, but also some real standouts that carry the album. Wearing their best joker face, "Saint John" is a sing-along hoot that sounds like the Beastie Boys messing around with honky-tonk. It stops abruptly, then slides beautifully into "Robbers" which highlights Willett's ability to croon with the best of them. Singing up a register, his voice glides over a brushed snare marching the beat away, "Robbing from the blind is not easy you see/ Don't think I don't know sympathy/ My victims in my shadows staring back at me." And then there is "Hospital Beds," a testament to the musical art of style over substance. This funky-ass romp will get you moving, shaking, humming, and banging your cubicle walls to non sequiturs about nieces, cousins and buckets by the dozens. The record ends with another winner "Rubidoux", and with its infectious guitar riffs it neatly displays the rock and roll side of the band.

Cold War Kids are a young band playing it loose, a modern day Creedence Clearwater Revival. Gnawing at the roots of rock, they are tattered and talented, and the propaganda is justified. Robbers & Cowards could have benefited from some tactful editing but is still a wallop of a debut. The inherent radiance of the album mirrors the live version of the band: it's simply too much fun to ignore. "Kids" belongs in the band's name right now, and with the fiery confidence of youth comes a wide open future.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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