Review Summary: Kids' latest succeeds or fails on whether Nathan Willett can hit the right notes.
Indie rock derived from the back roads of some of the best Americana music tradition is not a particularly new idea nowadays, as bands struggle to try to outdo each other with a sound that hasn’t hit it big yet. The National, Band of Horses, Midlake, dozens of bands are lining up for a swing at that big ‘ole ‘70s bluesy sound. Luckily for Fullerton, CA band Cold War Kids, they’ve already made a name for themselves with 2006’s critically acclaimed Robbers & Cowards, a vibrant piece of indie rock that incorporated the best of old-school blues and backwoods country rock. The Kids wade in even deeper on Loyalty to Loyalty, and while much of this sophomore effort captures the urgency of their debut, at times the Kids drag rather than kick things up.
Singer Nathan Willett is a big reason for the band’s appeal, a divisive vocalist with a raw, less trained Jeff Buckley-ish set of pipes and a penchant for preaching. But just as he uplifts some of Loyalty’s best songs with a raspy passion on the down ‘n dirty “Mexican Dogs” or with smart lyrics on the thumping drums and sexy rhythm of “I’ve Seen Enough,” his voice can turn from interesting and fresh to grating and intolerable with just a few misplaced falsettos. Single “Something Is Not Right With Me,” although musically spot-on, is derailed by Willett’s ranting shouts, while the band’s decision to lift Willett’s vocals way above everything else on the much-too-slow “Avalanche B” and the otherwise catchy “I’ve Seen Enough” make one wish Willett took more lessons.
The rest of the band is as on top of their style as ever before, cranking out track after track of irrepressibly bluesy, bar band-esque rockers that roar along on menacing guitar (“Mexican Dogs”) or lilting, jazzy piano melodies (“Every Valley Is Not A Lake”). And while closing songs like “Relief” collapse under the weight of their own pretensions and Willett’s howling, a tasteful mood piece like “Golden Gate Jumpers,” with one of the record’s best lyrics and melodies, remind one why Cold War Kids became famous in the first place.