Seven years after their debut, Cold War Kids are still some of indie rock’s most consummate, underrated professionals. I always forget how much I actually liked 2006’s Robbers & Cowards until a song like “Hang Me Up To Dry” or “We Used To Vacation” comes up on my shuffle. At the time of their formation, Cold War Kids stood out from the rest of garage-rock pack with their decidedly different, indie-blues fusion sound; since that time, though, they’ve (regrettably) gotten lost somewhere in the middle. Still, they churned out the releases (2008’s essentially unnoticed Loyalty to Loyalty; 2011’s disappointing, overproduced Mine Is Yours), without ever quite “making it” the way some of their contemporaries did.
And so we arrive at Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, the band’s fourth LP and one of this season’s most pleasant surprises. Each of the album’s ten tracks sounds bigger and brighter than before, yet still manages to maintain a believable authenticity. Best of all, Cold War Kids present them with the grace and ease of a mature, fully-ripened band.
Anthemic opener “Miracle Mile” leads off with a display of the band’s very best qualities: an excellent, driving piano, and Nathan Willett’s bluesy, classic rock infused vocals. When Willett sings “come up for air, come up for air,” the chorus is like a quick, whooshing burst of wind lifting him forwards. “Jailbirds” is criminally catchy, pairing a blazing riff with a wider-reaching, stadium rock feel. 21st Century Rock acts like Kings of Leon and The Killers know that these are the types of sounds that sell albums, but unlike those bands, Cold War Kids haven’t completely sold their souls.
Thankfully, there are still traces of Cold War Kids’ earlier style on slower, more evocative tunes like “Fear & Trembling,” the distant, vintage-vibed ballad “Tuxedos,” or title track “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts.” The sounds are familiar, yet crisp and refreshingly new. “I was supposed to do great things,” Willett sings on “Miracle Mile,” which perhaps Dear Miss Lonelyhearts makes a self-fulfilling prophecy at last.