Every so often there’s a song that just grabs you by the short hairs and won’t let go. Even though you the band shouldn’t appeal to you, or the song itself is reviled by your musical peers, you can’t help yourself. You listen to the song all the time; it gives you weird, complicated feelings that either springboard your creative endeavours or leave you stranded in an existential fog, depressed and disconnected. Hold My Home, the new album from California’s Cold War Kids, has one such song; it’s called “First”, and it’s a bizarrely compelling highlight of an intriguing but ultimately flawed release.
Hold My Home wants to be a raw open wound of an album, which is fine; Bastille proved that you could take electro-pop and infuse it with a ton of emotion with last year’s Bad Blood. The problem with the Cold War Kids is that they are suspended in a weird limbo where their songs aren’t crisp enough to really stand out, but are still far too polished for the range of emotion they want to evoke. The other weird trend is taking inspiration—whether consciously or accidentally—from bands of the 1990
s. Songs like “Go Quietly” and “Nights and Weekends” bring to mind Oasis and The Verve, but don’t have the lush layers of sound or the deliberate, tight composition. The title track has a lively drum line and chorus that are reminiscent of U2’s “Vertigo”, of all things. It’s quite strange to hear those sounds after almost twenty years, but the references aren’t obvious enough to be clever appropriations—it seems like more of a coincidence than anything.
There are powerful and enjoyable moments in Hold My Home. Even with the U2 allusion, the title track is a fun, much-needed jolt of energy. With its grimy bass lines, slow-building intensity, and emotional vocals, “Hot Coals” ends up feeling incredibly sexy. “Hotel Anywhere” has a neat synth riff that evokes the 80
s sound of New Order and Soft Cell. However, the production is just never where it needs to be to make the sound really work. The ballads “Harold Bloom” and album closer “Hear My Baby Call” are both plodding and easily skippable.
But then there’s that one song that comes around and skews everything.
“First” has a mournful, high-pitched guitar line cribbed from Explosions in the Sky, a slow clap-along beat, a minimalist piano harmony, and decent lyrics (“Flying like a cannonball falling to the earth / Heavy as a feather when you hit the dirt”). It is, in truth, a slight copy of another song that I liked far too much: “The Funeral”, by Band of Horses. And while it could just be that it tickles my particular musical fancy, “First” is one of the only places where Hold My Home‘s elements come together, and it’s devastatingly good—except that it’s utterly standard 21st century indie rock, no different from Fun.’s “We Are Young”. There is absolutely no reason why anyone should like “First” as much as I do, but—like “The Funeral”—there’s something deeply sad about that guitar when paired with wailed lyrics and a slow build. It’s those little moments like “First”, or the bridge on “Hot Coals”, which elevate Hold My Home to something more than just “meh”. There’s an intensity behind all the gloss, and it’s weirdly compelling. Hold My Home is worth a listen; if you click into its better moments, it’s a halfway decent entry into mainstream indie rock. It’s a letdown in terms of being a Cold War Kids album, but strip away your expectations and you’ll find some worthy gems.