By Erin Coulehan, Contributor, DC Music Live
Disillusionment has hovered like the sad dark cloud following Charlie Brown from Peanuts for decades, and it’s not news that the market for self-help books, advice blogs and ads are becoming increasingly popular. If you follow this set of rules, read these sorts of books and do these kinds of things, then you’ll be set! In an age where the gestures, attitudes and expressions of the individual have evolved into commodities and social media has enabled new forms of isolation, California rockers Cold War Kids take inspiration from Modern Literature and remind us of meaningful connections that have been displaced.
With the release of the band’s fourth studio album, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, Cold War Kids have combined heavy synthesizers and drum machines with pensive lyrics, creating an album that’s as hard-hitting as it is poetic. Cold War Kids will be showcasing songs off the new album tonight at a late show at 9:30 Club.
Miss Lonelyhearts, the Depression-era novel written by Nathanael West, is a black comedy set in New York City following the life of an advice columnist known only by his penname, Miss Lonelyhearts. The novel chronicles the frustration and depression that ensue as desperate New Yorkers flood the earnest columnist with letters, beseeching guidance but never fully understanding – or connecting – with anything other than their commercialized lives of labor. The lonelyhearts of New York City don’t get it because they’ve become as massed produced as their society, and Miss Lonelyhearts writes advice for people, not machine manuals. The absurd hero turns to heavy drinking, affairs with multiple women, and religion in an attempt to alleviate his burden. The story ends with a gun and two characters tumbling down a flight of stairs.
The novel resonated with Cold War Kids frontman Nathan Willett who began working on what was to become the band’s next album. Like Miss Lonelyhearts, Willet was seeking to establish connections between himself, the novel and the band’s audience – but the project isn’t a concept album like some reports have claimed.
“Concept album,” says Willett over the phone, repeating the words before responding. I soon learn that he’s thoughtful with all of his responses, “it can become a dirty word really quickly.” He says the album is more inspired by the novel than a concept taken directly from it. Willett didn’t want to think too much about gaining any certain insight, but was eager to throw his and his bandmates’ ideas out there to create something new, something meaningful.“There’s a connection between songwriting that acts as a way of communicating between yourself and a friend, trying to impart advice that can or can’t be obtained,” he says. But it’s that effort to connect that counts.
The title track is the ninth song on the album, and is drum-heavy which gives it a soulful and sexy delivery; you can easily imagine Willett singing it to you, and only you, in an intimate club through a haze of smoke.
“Good times never call/ When you’re waiting by the phone/ The good times never call/ On you unless you do it too,” he croons.
The song contains an understated elegance as do others including “Lost That Easy” and “Tuxedos” which are reflective and offer solace amidst a state of nihilism.
“There’s a certain kind of wisdom that comes from knowing a situation can’t be helped,” explains Willett. His statement is powerful, but not dark. “We’re surrounded by so much false hope from the media, in relationships – the ideas of it – but there’s a peace that can come from accepting that there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s when we’re most transparent.”
This wisdom is more existential than it is defeated, and it’s allowed the band to branch out. In many ways Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is one of the most uplifting albums Cold War Kids has put out. Current single “Miracle Mile” sets that tone from the get-go as the opener which courses through “Miss Lonelyhearts” and ends with “Bitter Poem,” a reassuring ballad about self-acceptance and outside support.
Like the novel from which it was inspired, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is rich in irony, dark (yet astute) observations and a sense of alienation. Cold War Kids takes us through the album’s journey beautifully up through the last song that goes out not with a bang, but a whisper.
Cold War Kids will be playing songs off Dear Miss Lonelyhearts tonight at 9:30 Club. Doors at 8pm.