When building a discography, it can become tedious to fall into the cycle of producing a single cohesive project and releasing it, then moving onto the next. Such is the case for Cold War Kids, the alternative band hailing from Long Beach, California. Rather than repeating this pattern for their seventh studio album, the group has chosen to prolong the experience—splitting it up into three parts.
The band’s founding members consist of bassist Matt Maust, vocalist/guitarist/pianist Nathan Willett, drummer Matt Aveiro, and guitarist Jonnie Russell, who put out their first album Robbers & Cowards in 2006. New Age Norms 1 is the inaugural installment of their latest project. Consisting of eight tracks, it's CWK's latest departure from the rock–heavy sound that colored their earlier work.
In contrast to the rough–edged charisma the band capitalized on in their older songs such as “We Used to Vacation,” the band’s sound and lyricism have softened on New Age Norms 1. This part of the album, the first of three to be released, is consistent throughout, not thematically, but by following a similar upbeat drum pattern and loud vocalization with each piece.
This is exemplified perfectly on “Dirt in My Eyes.” Production–wise, amplified percussion permeates the entire song, and it relies heavily on the clarity of the vocals and drums rather than employing a dynamic volume between the choruses. Thematically, it's typical for the band, as the vocalist sings of obstacles in the same way they sung about them on “Miracle Mile” in 2013. The melody itself is dance–worthy like that of “Fine Fine Fine,” a track featured earlier on the project, and characterizes a happiness the lyrics fail to convey.
These moments of fun are pocketed throughout the installment. “Waiting For Your Love,” is groovy like no other, in a manner that you might expect of Bruno Mars. “Got a hunger for you/ I'm not like all these other sheep/ Not gonna beg you or get on my knees,” sings Willett, in a falsetto that's clearly matured since their album from last year. The track takes inspiration from blues rather than rock, and it's a nice change for CWK.
The ballads on New Age Norms 1 are much more subtle. “Beyond the Pale,” despite its lethargic pace and piano melody, is still a loud, less intimate piece of the project. The vocals strain over the verses, and they utilize a quiet bridge to cut through the noise of the choruses.
The closer, “Tricky Devil,” digresses from all of the previous tracks with a relaxed melody and singing style, coupled with layered instruments, rather than the immediate cacophony of the opener, “Complainer.” The lyrics “Tell me why/ tell me why/ you smile,” close the project alongside an aggressive electric guitar climax, acting as a transition between this volume of New Age Norms and the ones that are to come.
The decision to split an album up into three pieces is risky—but, then again, Cold War Kids has nothing left to prove. New Age Norms 1 offers a glimpse into their departure from the crude into the colorful, though not necessarily in a way that's refreshing. Its formulaic, yet offers several danceable moments. Above all though, it keeps listeners longing for more. Hopefully, we'll be satisfied with the next two parts of the project.