The last few years have seen Long Beach quartet Cold War Kids undergo some pretty sizeable changes. The departure of founding guitarist Jonnie Russell in 2012 and drummer Matt Aviero (whose place in the band remains somewhat open-ended) ultimately didn’t prove to be that massive a setback with 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts keeping the self-professed “soul/punk” mission alive and well. It’s interesting to note that both new members – Portland drummer Joe Plummer and axesmith Dann Gallucci – are probably best known for their respective tenures with indie behemoth Modest Mouse. With Gallucci sitting in the producer’s chair of the band’s home studio (with help from Lars Stalfors of Mars Volta and Matt & Kim fame) for Hold My Home and it’s clear that the band have seized the opportunity to take some different turns on album number five.
The loose, world-percussion driven grooves of 2006’s breakout debut Robbers & Cowards are sadly all but gone and frontman Nathan Willett’s impressive, histrionic bleat seems to have softened a touch in the interim but Hold My Home irrefutably shows a band who refuse to slow down. In some ways, the opening piano clunks of first track and lead single All This Could Be Yours could have conceivably come from the same band who blew you away nearly a decade ago with Hospital Beds, but there’s a newfound sheen to the whole operation that is neither a hugely positive or negative thing – just different. It could be Plummer’s more metronomic approach to drumming or Gallucci’s larger collection of effects pedals, but tracks like First show a band with a bit different sensibility than in the past, comfortably sitting somewhere between Maroon 5 or U2’s brand of arena-pop with enough indie-cred to stave off detractors.
Current single Hot Coals falls a little closer to the sound with which Cold War Kids initially broke out and it’s great to see Willett’s knack for a memorable hook hasn’t diminished over time. The supercharged, four-on-the-floor Motown beat of Drive Desperate underpins yet another stadium-sized chorus and the the cavernous, Stone Roses Britpop of Hotel Anywhere ties together all the best parts of ‘80s rock impeccably. Although there’s a natural husk to them nowadays from a decade of touring, Willett’s searing, falsetto chops still work to pretty glorious effect on Go Quietly before the suspiciously Millenium-by-Robbie-Williams chord progression of Nights & Weekends (surely just a coincidence) eases things down to a more relaxed pace.
The title track starts out with some fuzzed-out, Interpol-ish bass before exploding into a chorus that sounds like Elvis Costello at his early-‘70s new-wave prime whereas the big “whoa-oh-oh-oh” hook in Flower Drum Song – which also utilizes Gallucci’s pedalboard to its fullest extent with some truly unique and gnarly guitar sounds – works a treat. Harold Bloom is disarmingly minimal and plays as if Jeff Buckley had a Wurlitzer electric piano in place of his iconic telecaster when recording his seminal Live at Sinè album (maybe with some lonely tambourine hits, backing vocals and Vox organ thrown in for good measure) before the dirge-y, undulating swamp-gospel of Hear My Baby Call builds and builds, drawing Hold My Home to a pretty climactic end.
Many bands would have immediately folded with an exodus of half its founding lineup, but thankfully Cold War Kids are not one of them. It could be the go-with-the-flow attitude of their native Long Beach (usually synonymous with such… let’s say “laid back” icons as Sublime and the one-and-only Snoop Dogg) but the stresses of a potential breakup have been pretty expertly avoided with a couple of Modest Mouse alums who bring something totally new and refreshingly different to the Cold War Kids sound and Hold My Home proves to be a pretty great record for it.