Though it’s been only seven years since Long Beach’s Cold War Kids released their first album, Robbers & Cowards
, it seems in some ways eons since that album landed the indie rock band on the radio with songs like “Hang Me Up to Dry.” In that post Arcade Fire landscape, an agreeable song like that one made sense as a crossover hit. While electronica-infused indie rock bands like Cut Copy and Hot Chip left them in the dust on their recent albums, a newfound interest in rootsy rock — Mumford & Sons and the like — would seem to bode well for Cold War Kids as they release their fourth album, but the band has gone more stratospheric and toward the electronic end of things on Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
. Cold War Kids start out firing on all cylinders on the bouncing, piano-pounding “Miracle Mile.” “Loner Phase” successfully incorporates a percolating synthesizer into one of their more grandiose rockers, full of big drums while Nathan Willett pushes his highwire vocals to their limit. They also wisely allow for space, as on “Fear & Trembling,” a simple, two-chord, swaying power ballad that makes the most of Willett’s voice, rising and shrieking in the background over stately accompaniment, including saxophone. Similarly, “Tuxedos” aims for somewhere between John Lennon’s “Instant Karma!” and Van Morisson’s jazzy swagger, though Willet’s lyrics don’t quite deliver on the promise of the music and his voice. Dear Miss Loneleyhearts
works best not on its full-on ballads but when the band successfully melds its funkier leanings with the tunefulness they strive for, as on “Jailbirds,” a nicely dynamic tune that gets its point across with rollicking beats and basslines, builds and breakdowns, all in under three minutes. In songs like these, Cold War Kids make the case for themselves as an economical pop-rock band with the tunes to match their ambition.