Album Review

Aaron George

After all, you can't put a price on the feeling you will get with this on your mp3 player.

You know what's cool? The Fonz. You know what's even cooler than that? The life and work of Bruce Lee. Cooler than that? Red wine. You know what might be cooler than all of these things though? Robbers and Cowards by Cold War Kids. Since its release I have been steadily re-discovering just how cool it is every few months and finally I have decided it is time to proclaim its coolness to the rest of the world.

Released in 2006, this was not only an amazing debut for the band, but from the moment I heard “Hang Me Up To Dry,” I knew that this was going to be a band who would impress me. Everything about that song, its bass opening, its sturdy rhythm, the way Nathan Willett bursts into the chorus, and especially the staggered piano, simply reeks of cool. This is all to say nothing of the lyrics, which here (and on many other parts of the album) read almost like an old pulp novel with a dash of southern soul.

The whole album is like this. Robbers and Cowards smokes hand-rolled cigarettes, drinks whiskey from a flask, and speaks in a language peppered with the poetry of the downtrodden. It's impressive considering that when you see the band members they look like your average skinny white guys with no rhythm. But good lord can they bounce. Not to mention that when Willet gets going on full his voice is something other-worldly. I have played the album for people without letting them know who it was before and more than once those people have thought Willet was actually a black woman, which is so incredibly cool my words could never do it proper justice.

Getting back to lyrics, rarely is fiction used so well by musicians. These songs tell stories of alcoholism, thievery, corrupt clergy, and a recurring unnameable element that makes you think of black and white movies and beatniks. While most people cannot claim to have had these experiences, the lessons of the songs are things most people can identify with. If Henry Miller had been a musician instead of an author, I would have to guess that his music would have sounded similar to this, exposing the beauty of life through dirt, grime, and the barer aspects of human nature. The words swagger: “I promised to my wife and children, I'd never touch another drink as long as I live. But even then it sounds so soothing to mix a gin and sink into oblivion.” The words love: “She's laughing like a choir girl...when she doubles over sounds like hallelujah.” The words are sympathetic devils: “All this life of glorified robbing from the blind is not easy. Don't think I don't know sympathy, my victims in my shadow staring back at me” And the words are also church-going criminals: “Cram your paper money snug closer than before...I suggest you respect the deal and keep your nose out of business of priests and holy men. The life you have chosen is full of cracked finger nails and canceled appointments.”

While it is hard to find a real high point in all of this (yes it’s all that good) the song “Saint John” does a great job of capturing the spirit of the band. It is stark; simple drumming with busted cymbals, smooth bass underlying everything, and poignantly human lyrics. It tells the story of a man killing a (presumably) rich college kid for assaulting his sister on her way home from work. My description sucks, but the song includes the lines “all the white boys in the stay-pressed slack, home for the summer from college” and “boys grab her by the waste with the caffeine eyes, their hands all fidgety lechering. I picked up a brick from my Pappa’s front yard, and threw it at the tallest boy’s face.” Those might be the coolest words ever put to music. The song caps off with jumpy piano and gang vocals about being on death row...It does not get cooler, I'm sorry, it's simply not possible.

In the interest of time I am going to spare you ten more paragraphs about why I think lines like “I reach for the hat and take all the cash, and slide it in to my ragged coat sleeve” (speaking about robbing from the church collection plate) are incredible sirens of all things cool. If you have never heard this album then go get it. Even a cost of twenty bucks at the mall would be worth the money. After all, you can't put a price on the feeling you will get with this on your mp3 player, walking in a crowded area. This feeling, of course, is one of being amazingly cool.