War’s sophomore ‘Loyalty’ a letdown

shane.nyman

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In 2006, L.A. indie-rockers Cold War Kids arrived on the scene with their first major release, the well-received “Robbers and Cowards.” Their piano-driven debut had very traditional sounds, yet still boasted a refreshing originality that led to sets at both Bonnaroo in ’07 and this year’s Coachella. Their edgy, dark moodiness was best on display in their hit “Hang Me Up to Dry,” featured in episodes of Entourage and Gossip Girl.

Just under two years later, Cold War Kids are back with the 13-track “Loyalty to Loyalty,” hoping to shake any notions of a sophomore slump.

The plan of attack has not changed, as the album is again piano-driven, dark and moody rock, with frontman Nathan Willett’s narratives sung over typically simple drum beats.

Willett, while plinking at the piano, wails as hearty as ever on “Loyalty to Loyalty.” It’s safe to say that without Willett’s unique, soulful pipes, Cold War Kids would be rather unremarkable.

What carries listeners from one track to the next, along with Willett’s voice, is their knack for storytelling. It’s a sometimes taxing but most often rewarding combination.

Over the course of the album’s quick 48 minutes, a woman is talked down from suicide in the “Golden Gate Jumpers,” a female narrator details the rugged, violent men she seeks without reason in “Every Man I Fall For” and even gives a shout out to parents in “Welcome to the Occupation,” where Willett calls out “Raising your kids, America / You treat ’em like an obligation.”

Predictably, the album’s first single carries the most memorable melody and excitement in “Something is Not Right With Me.” Much in the vein of “Hang Me Up to Dry,” it’s the album’s wake up of sorts — faster, louder and with Willett in his most spirited form.

Another of the album’s high points is “Mexican Dogs,” with Willett telling upbeat tales of simple freedoms and runaway lovers. “Lock all exit doors / Now I wanna be your dog,” he sings, doing his best to set a scene while swiping a line from Iggy Pop.

The later “Dreams Old Men Dream” is the album’s most experimental track, with bassist Matt Maust, guitarist Jonnie Russel and drummer Matt Averio doing their best to channel Explosions in the Sky, while Willett delivers some of the album’s most poetic lines. “Thought I was nervous like a mailman / Reading your letters, dear / But I was at our anniversary / Toasting 30 years.”

“Loyalty to Loyalty,” much like “Robbers and Cowards,” has few catchy tracks, but Cold War Kids have never been about hooks and memorable melodies. It’s their storytelling and Willett’s howling that draws listeners in. The album has its shining moments, but with nearly as many forgettable tracks, “Loyalty to Loyalty” leaves something to be desired.