Cold War Kids — ‘New Age Norms 1’
THE GOOD: California indie outfit Cold War Kids gives us its seventh.
THE BAD: CWK makes GOOD records, not GREAT ones. “Norms” doesn’t buck that trend.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Supposedly, the “1” in the title means this is the first chapter in a TRILOGY of records. I’m not sure the guys need to get that ambitious or what exactly will set these apart from the rest of the catalog. Because right now, “Norms” feels like another routine CWK album.
That’s not necessarily a BAD thing though. Frontman Nathan Willett and his crew still deliver a catchy set big on jittery melodies, jagged riffs and a bit of funk. Whether it’s the soaring “Fine Fine Fine,” streetwise “4th of July” or somewhat graceful “Calm Your Nerves,” the record isn’t short on bold moments and never slips into a repetitive rut (that’s all you can ask of CWK). We’ll see if the momentum keeps up for two more chapters.
BUY IT?: Your call.
Mikal Cronin — ‘Seeker’
THE GOOD: California singer/songwriter (and Ty Segall collaborator) Mikal Cronin comes back with his fourth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Seeker” ends up a rock-solid, full-bodied and well-balanced singer/songwriter record. It never falls into the realm of predictability and offers up some cool flavors. Cronin doesn’t give us a strictly acoustic set; most of these songs are built atop arrangements augmenting the standard rock lineup with intimate string flourishes, brass and even loud bursts of sax.
Cronin took his time writing the album, holed up in a remote cabin for inspiration and concentration. See? You thought that was just a cliché, but artists actually do that. Some moments sound as if he’s still in the woods, but when the band kicks in, an energy (and occasional aggression) takes over. “Seeker” ends up a dashing mix of power pop, indie and folk rock. Cronin keeps us guessing, covering a wide variety of rushing emotions within a limited yet well-crafted space. That cabin was a good idea.
BUY IT?: Surely.
DIIV — ‘Deceiver’
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie rock band DIIV regroups and offers up a solid third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band went through hell making this thing. Its lineup shuffled again, and founding member Zachary Cole Smith found himself back in rehab shortly after the release of 2016’s “Is the Is Are.” Staying sober isn’t easy.
The end result is a lyrically open-ended and dense-sounding album. “Deceiver” also feels like a time capsule from 1989/1990 and the height of shoegaze when bands like My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Ride ruled college radio airwaves. However, its greatest strength is the songs themselves.
Strip away the distortion, layered atmospherics and ghostly harmonies, and these songs possess melodies that would be just as powerful over a bare acoustic backdrop. The writing is that solid. Tracks such as “Skin Game” and “The Spark” work on a few different levels in that they’ll mess with your head, embrace some noise and deliver the infectious goods all at the same time.
BUY IT?: Sure.