Rock & Roll Report Card

Cold War Kids
Cold War Kids
Menahan Street Band
Menahan Street Band

A- (81%)
Cold War Kids
Loyalty to Loyalty
Downtown/Mercury/V2

The artwork for the Cold War Kids’ latest album has a skeleton on the front. This, one feels, is wholly representative of an album that is unrelentingly bleak from beginning to end. Just as their past effort was a chilling affair, Loyalty to Loyalty continues lead singer Nathan Willett’s dark lyrical exploration of the grim underbelly of American society.

Only the band’s first single, “Something is Not Right With Me,” bucks this trend; the upbeat tempo is a stark departure from an album that is otherwise characterised by howling vocals and slow, steady guitar strums. The songs are haunting, none more so than the supremely depressing opener “Against Privacy” and the equally explicit “Golden Gate Jumpers,” a jittery affair about a woman attempting to commit suicide.

That being said, while it’s true that Willett’s particular brand of suicide pop may not appeal to a broader audience, those able to withstand the depressing overtones of the band’s music will also see within it an untapped genius. The bluesy current running through the album is excellent, establishing the album as—despite its grim lyrics—superbly musically accomplished. “I’ve Seen Enough” is particularly powerful in its dazzling mixture of angry guitar rifts and juxtaposed moments of slowly sung sadness. Also, the beautiful, soaring sorrow that resides in the melodies of songs such as “Relief” and “Every Man I Fall For” are simply irresistible.

While Loyalty to Loyalty is certainly not a perfect album, the band’s demonstration of the problematic existence of the human species through their beautifully crafted rifts and poignant vocal style creates a deeply moving album.

At a time where indie bands are becoming mainstream creations, breaking sales for records and going on arena-filled world tours, the Kids are pursuing everything but. Their album might not be appropriate for all occasions, but you can’t help but applaud the band for their rejection of the norm and their embracing of cold, ugly social truths.

—Louise Potter

A (85%)
Menahan Street Band
Make the Road by Walking
Dunham

The Menahan Street Band’s debut, Make the Road by Walking, is a warm amble through instrumental R&B. It’s difficult to pin the music of this New York collective to a “sound” because it covers so much ground. Travelling through funk, soul, jazz and dub, the talented young musicians refuse to slot their music into one genre. The title track opens the album with a clean funky guitar, a streamlined bass groove, an increasingly exuberant horn section and a sparkling vibraphone. The song sets the tone for what is to come. The entire album feels like a bright, lazy, afternoon in the city, relaxingly spent with good company.

Another standout track is “Home Again!” which starts with a lone acoustic guitar, before an unforgettable horn line kicks in and makes for a relentlessly happy gem of a song. The rhythm and bass sections move from jazzy to hip-hop to dub-inspired.

The entire album gives the vague impression of something from another decade; tracks such as “The Traitor” would not sound out of place in a ’70s action film. In fact, the final song gives a pop-culture nod to that influence, reworking “Going the Distance” from Rocky into a surprisingly laid back and grooving—yet triumphant—jam.

Although the album takes cues from and explores disparate sounds, the musicianship is incredibly tight—a crisp rhythm section holds everything together, and the chemistry within the collective is apparent. The music is never too dry or technical though, and keeps an upbeat, optimistic feel throughout.

Make the Road by Walking is not hugely innovative, heady or emotional, but it isn’t trying to be. The Menahan Street Band has concocted a soulful slice of musical sunshine to fight off the increasingly cold weather, and it’s nearly impossible not to smile when it’s playing.

—Nicholas Fellion

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