We live in an age where digital distribution has put increased pressure on artists to embrace the album as an art form in its own right. While recalling those days when chart success was less important than raw album sales, different artists are adapting the long-play album in different ways. Beyoncé, with her album “Lemonade,” turned it into a multimedia phenomenon, while others like neo-progressive outfit The Dear Hunter have utilized it as an episodic storytelling device. In short, the music album is an infinite space of possibility in which artists can forge anything they so desire.
Or, they could just as easily put together a hard and fast rock record that calls to mind everyone from The Rolling Stones to Sister Rosetta Tharpe to blue-eyed soul era David Bowie. That, incidentally, is what the Cold War Kids have done with their most recent LP, “New Age Norms 1,” released Nov. 1 on AWAL Records.
This indie rock outfit has been around for quite some time, though they are not as well known as they deserve. The absolute deluge of alt/indie rock bands that have populated the airwaves for the last three decades makes divining the good among them difficult. However, the Cold War Kids proved with their most recent album that they’re among the good of that bunch. “New Age Norms 1” is a hard rolling modern rock style R&B record like the kind that spawned popular rock music. It’s just updated for a newer age with crystal clear production and enough Fats Domino-esque piano riffs to populate an old school vaudeville show.
This album is a quick eight-track record, though it avoids feeling insubstantial primarily because of the quality of its songs, especially in its first half. The album slows down somewhat in the second half but never loses its essential edge. That being said, one is still forced to at least tacitly consider this record something of an upgraded EP if for no other reason than how front-loaded the quality songs are. This makes the album’s first half a ceaseless cannonball run while the second is slower, more thoughtful and heartfelt.
The aforementioned first half consisted most significantly of the tracks “Complainer,” “Fine Fine Fine” and “Waiting For Your Love,” and it’s this three-part punch that hooks you into the album. It is perhaps for the best that almost half of it is over by the time you’ve heard these three songs.
Starting with “Beyond the Pale” and going through the album’s conclusion, there is a significant slowing of pace and tempo. Your mileage may vary depending on whether or not you would have preferred an entire album of songs like the first half, or whether you appreciate the downtime the album provides.
But for what it is, “New Age Norms 1” provides a fast-paced and diverse listening experience that draws upon the greatest of what popular music has produced over the decades, utilizing composition techniques pioneered by the earliest rock stars without feeling unoriginal or overly reverent. “New Age Norms 1” should place Cold War Kids on a prominent place on your radar, and it hints at great things to come from a band that seems to be at the top of its game.
I give “New Age Norms 1” four out of five stars.