There is a prevalent thought running through conversation on Cold War Kids, that their earlier work—particularly their most widely reaching album, debut Robbers and Cowards—is their strongest output. Their ever-so-slowly declining popularity seems to mirror this sentiment, as has their slowly disappearing founding lineup. But, on fifth album Hold My Home, as hinted on their last effort Dear Miss Lonleyhearts, the Fullerton, California-founded band shows that maybe this conversation has steered in a misguided direction. Maybe Cold War Kids are, somehow, getting better—at least for the front side of Hold My Home.
The opening tracks—the piano-driven march “All This Can Be Yours,” the clap-along anthem “First” and the sexy, strutting “Hot Coals”—are the strongest run the band has put together in its career, allowing frontman Nathan Willett to bend his all-risk, all-reward voice as far as it will stretch. With two Modest Mouse vets now in the band, the songs have a certain muscularity to them, and, if anything, guitarist Dann Gallucci and drummer Joe Plummer have raised the taste level over the last two records.
The newest members (plus touring keyboardist-promoted-to-actual member Matthew Schwartz) are best displayed a little later on the album, on the pounding “Drive Desperate,” which Gallucci dominates in the latter half. Schwartz shows himself vital on the album’s biggest left turn, the ‘80s-influenced stomp “Hotel Anywhere.” “I write and I play, I live and I breathe, it’s incredible how little I need…I find beauty in everything,” Willett sings on the track, and the sentiment is earnest in its effect. Willett has seemed discontent in interviews in the past, but on Hold My Home, he might have found more peace than ever. And the look suits him. As a songwriter, it is easy to say he has never quite gotten his fair shake, and coming to peace with that may just be the key in getting people to further appreciate his work.
The back half of Hold My Home is unfortunately hit-or-miss and keeps the record from being a truly great album. While “Flower Drum Song” and the title track recapture the earlier half’s kinetic immediacy, the record’s ballads, “Nights and Weekends,” “Harold Blood” and “Hear My Baby Call,” come off as filler and slow down the momentum Cold War Kids had built. But, make no mistake, Hold My Home is arguably the strongest record—with the most consistent highlights—that the band has yet to deliver, and it bodes well for their future. In losing founding members, the group has found a more captivating identity and seems at peace with the road forward.