Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cold War Kids: Mine is Yours

One of the drawbacks to living overseas is IP restriction. For example, if you want to watch a late-night movie on NetFlix or listen to free music on Pandora, you will find an unnerving message awaiting you: “Due to licensing restrictions, we cannot allow you to watch/listen to this awesome site you once greatly enjoyed in the US--have a terrible day.” The first time Pandora recognized my European IP address and slammed its cyber-door, I scrambled to find alternatives for sampling new music. Thankfully, I stumbled upon and there found the new album by the Cold War Kids, Mine is Yours.

The Cold War Kids were wedged in between Cage the Elephant and The Black Keys on Jango’s “alternative” station. Their “alternative” sound is exactly why I love CWK. Lead singer Nathan Willet’s unconventionally high voice and penetrating melodies are a perfect match for guitarist Jonnie Russell’s jagged riffs. The Kids from Long Beach, CA manage to channel Southern blues with triumphant soul searching and pulsing rhythms. Though they've not yet won awards for their creative efforts, their latest album establishes CWK as an unsuspecting talent with stories to tell.

In Mine is Yours, Willet and company get much more personal than their last two studio LP’s. Songs like “Louder Than Ever” and “Mine is Yours” portray a journey away from love and back into its arms again. Instead of detached, third-person storytelling, Willet sings about “I” and “you.” In “Louder Than Ever,” he reflects, “I was takin’ you for granted, you were holding the reigns, but I can hear you louder than ever.” The simple switch to first person opens up CWK for inspection and allows listeners to connect with Willet’s winding path.

When I listen to Mine is Yours, I hear someone who has traveled the globe, tapped into the full spectrum of human emotions and lived to sing about it. And after the last few years, it's a surprise to many that CWK is singing at all. Following the huge success of their first album (Robbers & Cowards), the Kids received scathing reviews for their sophomore album (Loyalty to Loyalty). The effort was criticized as sloppy, loose and devoid of any real substance. In an interview with RELEVANT Magazine, Willet admits to selling his own bandmates short by closing himself off and "not stepping out and saying something" in their earlier efforts.

The darkness, confusion and even criticism of their second album seems to have laid the groundwork for something more authentic. The result is a weathered, yet brighter, musical expression, one that I can respect. The song "Finally Begin" betrays the wounded heart of an artist who faces the cold, cruel world and is left with a decision. "Do I open up my arms wide and learn to trust again or keep my eyes to the floor and just look out for myself?"

It’s risky being an artist. Art asks you to put yourself “out there” for the masses to either empathize or criticize, understand or scorn and various shades in between. I appreciate CWK’s boldness in sharing their experiences, especially since they were at first hesitant to do so. It takes a lot of guts and talent to use music to tell a story, especially your own. Even so, the Cold War Kids' emotional investment on this album gives us something deeper than story, where narrative and experience intersect: real life.