California’s Cold War Kids, with their indie-soul aesthetic and faux-blues-like charms, have never seemed to connect quite as well as they might have hoped in a general sense. It’s not that they haven’t found success or that their music is particularly bad. But when matched against the band members’ myriad influences and apparent ambitions, their efforts often instill and strikingly ordinary feeling.
Frontman Nathan Willett and his Lou Reed crooning rarely provide a less-than-enjoyable experience, and the adequate accompaniment winningly mixes a post-punk moodiness with a soulful blues homage that is not without its pop sensibilities. More often than not, though, Cold War Kids go through the motions, leaving things a bit empty in terms of resonance. As a band, they carry themselves with confidence and purpose; but their delivery has always left a little something to be desired. Their latest EP, Behave Yourself, is an impressive step in a slightly more relevant direction.
Pointed and concise, while possessing an ornately distinct breadth of view, Behave Yourself is something of a refreshing take on the Cold War Kids own methods. It’s not reinvention, but refinement — and it is mostly satisfying. Lead single “Audience” uses their usual soulful key strokes and lilting bellows, but there is a latently bittersweet quality to it that adds an extra layer of humanity and relativity to the affair. It’s been these kinds of organic flares that have been sorely lacking in previous Cold War Kids releases.
Continuing down a similar path, tracks like “Coffee Spoons” and “Santa Ana Winds” find intricate ways to be both biting and gentle. There is an art-rock atmosphere that never comes off quite as calculated or manufactured as it should or has in the past. For all the offbeat time signatures and bluesy intonations, Behave Yourself does good in the way of embracing an almost elemental elegance to its basic composition that is completely unassuming.
There may be moments of repetition that indicate a bit a creative bankruptcy, and even for an EP this is perhaps all too brief an outing. However, Behave Yourself easily topples most of Cold War Kids’ previous endeavors. Hinting at a more focused and tightly wound sonic output in the future, it satisfies as well as tantalizes, and Cold War Kids would be wise to take this particular ball and run with it.