New Age Norms, Vol. 3

Cold War Kids

(Digital Download - #)

Review by Heather Phares

With the third and final installment of their New Age Norms project, Cold War Kids bring their music back home. While they ventured into tough, slick rock, Motown homages, and dramatic synth pop on New Age Norms, Vol. 1 and New Age Norms, Vol. 2, this time they focus on the anthemic moods that have always been the bedrock of their style, and it's a perfect match for their reflective frame of mind. As they return to their musical roots, they look back on where they've been and how far they've come. On songs like "I Can't Walk Away" and the country- and soul-tinged "Nowhere to Be," the band traces the trials and triumphs of relationships -- one of their favorite topics, and one they still do well. They ponder being true to oneself on "Times Have Changed" and the difference between moving on and losing touch on "2 Worlds," which sets witty reflections on encroaching middle age to bleary keyboards and brisk percussion. Musically, the driving grooves of songs such as "What You Say" are as tight as Cold War Kids' best work, possibly because the band worked on a smaller batch of songs as part of New Age Norms' bigger picture. While they add some experimental touches here and there, like the arena rock-meets-synth pop balladry of "Always" or the spooky ambience of "Underground," most of New Age Norms, Vol. 3's songs return to the band's signature piano-pounding stomp by the time they end. Fortunately, the effect isn't so much predictable as on-brand for Cold War Kids. Even if most of the album's songs are at a similar intensity, releasing a trio of mini albums was a daring move for a band that was coming into mainstream success with their previous release, L.A. Divine. When New Age Norms, Vol. 3 comes to a close with "Wasted All Night"'s drifting coda, it feels like a fitting conclusion to the project's mix of big-picture ambition and in-depth emotional exploration.

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