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Cold War Kids

Christopher Collum | Tuesday, February 1, 2011

For its first album in about two and a half years, Cold War Kids selected Jacquire King to sit behind the boards as its producer. This choice should tell a little bit about the direction in which the band is presumably headed. King’s most recent successes have been the pair of Kings of Leon albums “Only by the Night” and “Come Around Sundown,” both of which sported a well-burnished studio sheen complete with “arena-ready” hooks that skyrocketed Kings of Leon into superstardom.

Likewise, King’s only previous foray into the loosely-defined world of “indie rock” — a term fairly applied to Cold War Kids — was Modest Mouse’s 2004 album “Good News for People Who Love Bad News,” an album that gave Modest Mouse a big hit in “Float On” and probably lost legions of hardcore fans with its refined, seemingly diluted sound. Choice of producer: a nefarious omen for “Mine Is Yours?” Possibly.

The album opens with the sparse twirlings of the title track, which features little besides synthesizer and Nathan Willett’s voice at first before broadening into the predictably catchy chorus as Willett proclaims, “What’s mine is yours” repeatedly. The song seems to be some kind of tale of youthful love, but the lyrics are so ambiguous that it’s difficult to say for sure. This lyrical ambiguity, and at times downright mediocrity, is prevalent throughout the album.

So far, not so bad though. The song is predictable, yes, but not so much in a bad way as in a “well-written pop song” kind of way.

Second track and first single “Louder Than Ever,” however, demonstrates what is amiss on this record. Where he once sounded spontaneous, even dangerous, Willett now simply sounds extremely suave and self-impressed. Gone is the fitful (if borrowed) urgency of the band’s 2005 breakthrough single “Hospital Beds,” replaced instead by some kind of studio bastardization of Bono and maybe Win Butler of Arcade Fire fame.

The band does its best, however, as musically, this record sounds like any number of solid 90s pop-rock records. Counting Crows’ “August and Everything After” and Goo Goo Dolls’ “Dizzy Up the Girl” come to mind in particular. While a little bit heavy on reverb at times, that is more a strike against the production than the musicians most likely. Drummer Matt Aveiro shines through in particular, especially on album highlight “Bulldozer”— the one track on which Willett manages to momentarily recall his former sense of urgency.

Despite the negatives, there are some very likeable moments on this record. The chorus of “Finally Begin” sounds made to play over the season finale of next season’s biggest new sitcom. Album closer, “Flying Upside Down”, sounds like a more cluttered version of something off Coldplay’s “Vida La Vida,” and, as previously mentioned, the last two minutes of “Bulldozer” really shines. That song will certainly have the listener humming along as Willett sings, “I can feel your arms around me / Pull me closer / Hold me tightly.”

Despite this, some songs are just bad — there’s no other way to put it. “Sensitive Kid” and “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor” are both pretty obvious duds. However, “Mine Is Yours” is not a bad record overall. It’s a somewhat mediocre record, but not a bad one. A first-time listener to the band might find the album rather enjoyable. Any fans hoping for a return to the sound of the band’s debut “Robbers and Cowards” must look elsewhere, unfortunately.

If “Mine Is Yours” will undoubtedly be recognized as one singular thing, it is that it is the record that truly has the potential to give the band some kind of mainstream breakthrough. A little wiser single choice and maybe another tour supporting Death Cab for Cutie and Cold War Kids should find its place in what’s left of the mainstream rock scene before too long.

Rating: 2 out of 4 Shamrocks