For nearly 15 years, Nathan Willett and Cold War Kids have fielded the shifts in the musiclandscape’s seismic activity as well as the ebbs and flows in their own camp whilesimultaneously sticking to their game plan. Over the course of a dozen releases on majors andindies alike, non-stop tours and the festival circuit’s biggest stages, massive radio and streamingsuccesses as well as a few lineup changes, Cold War Kids have become a major part of themodern scene.
Coming off of the high water marks of 2014’sHold My Homewith its smash single “First” andthe Capitol Records-backedLA Divinein 2017 feeling mostly satiated, Willett began to hone inon what was most exciting and integral to him in both the Cold War Kids recipe as well as in thecurrent music climate as he began to write new material. He obsessed over the seemingly never-ending stream of Kanye West-produced records released in the summer of 2018, enamored oftheir breezy compactness and fresh feeling, which excited him to explore a new workingrelationship with his own producer of favor, Lars Stalfors (St. Vincent, Foster the People). Thepair entered the studio to write a very specific, of-the-moment type of album, encouraged to takethe doors off of the idea of what the band was in order to see where it could go
Willett and Stalfors incorporated some pieces of the core CWK sound while stripping away therafter-reaching production of their past records, aiming for leaner, tighter tunes. And, takinginspiration from a slogan on a T-shirt made by the band’s bass player and resident visual artistMatt Maust, Willett had the project’s title, lyrical themes, and structure in mind even before anysongs had been completed—three unique eight-song volumes calledNew Age Norms.
Writing from urgent, of-the-moment perspectives in order to respect and reflect the day’snormative behaviors and climate, Willett focused on a bird’s eye view of the current values hewas observing all around him—the new norms of class, gender, race, and power that are creatingour modern world. The first volume’s eight songs explore the connective tissue apparent to himin the landscape, with the sense of optimism and uplifting positivity he feels necessary toapproach any issue, or song
One such line—“Don’t sit around and complain about it”—provided the focal point for the firstsong on and written forNew Age Norms, “Complainer,” a call to do something constructiverather than dwell on all the things that might drag us down. Co-written with the pop writerBonnie McKee (Katy Perry, Rita Ora) and Electric Guest’s Asa Taccone (whose drummer,Matthew Compton, plays drums throughoutNew Age Norms), “Complainer” sizzles with itsfresh mix of modern production and stand-by CWK sonic influences like Can and TalkingHeads. The next song, “Fine Fine Fine,” recalls The Jam meets Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” abouncy rock-and-roller featuring female backup singers and a youthful raging against aging andmaturing; “Waiting for Your Love” would sound right at home on anEmotional RescueperiodRolling Stones record, but with an update of Mick Jagger’s explicit stray cat strut to a versionsuitable for our times.