Cold War Kids have been one of my favorite bands since I first started listening to them in 2007. I’ve anticipated the release of each of their new albums, and even when an album has disappointed me a bit, they still have redeeming qualities because CWK is such a brilliant band.
So, with the release of the highly anticipated LA Divine coming April 7, I decided to do something a little extreme: rank every single Cold War Kids song. Yes, every single one. From the EPs to albums to one-off tracks to bonus tracks. This is quite an undertaking and I’m sure I will get some of these wrong. So, please, tell me which ones I got wrong, which ones I got right, and if I forgot any.
I didn’t include any side projects, like French Style Furs’ Is Exotic Bait, which did have some excellent songs and started my years-long fascination with Thomas Merton.
UPDATE: In anticipation of their new album out later in 2019, I’ve added all of their songs released since I originally wrote this piece. So that includes everything from LA Divine and This Will All Blow Over In Time. Though songs from TWABOIT are only added if they are new.
These are the songs I skip every time they come up on shuffle. Listen, even the Rolling Stones had some bad songs. It’s part of being an artist.
96. “Pregnant” – Robbers & Cowards
95. “God, Make Up Your Mind” – Robbers & Cowards
94. “Baby Boy” – Behave Yourself
93. “Avalanche In B” – Loyalty to Loyalty
92. “On The Night My Love Broke Through” – Loyalty to Loyalty
91. “Wilshire Protest” – LA Divine
90. “Sensitive Kid” – Mine Is Yours
89. “Cryptomnesia” – Loyalty to Loyalty
88. “LA River” – LA Divine
87. “Golden Gate Jumpers” – Loyalty to Loyalty
86. “Red Wine, Success” – Robbers & Cowards
85. “Cameras Always On” – LA Divine
84. “Something Is Not Right With Me” – Loyalty to Loyalty
Plucked Too Soon
These songs have some redeeming qualities, but probably could have benefited from more time in the studio or some other change. I don’t skip these every time, but they are rarely my choice to listen to.
83. “Tell Me In The Morning” – Robbers & Cowards
82. “Skip The Charades” – Mine Is Yours
81. “Robbers” – Robbers & Cowards
80. “Finally Begin” – Mine Is Yours
79. “Locker Room Talk” – Single
78. “Portugese Bend” – Five Quick Cuts
77. “Out of the Wilderness” – Mine Is Yours
76. “Broken Open” – Mines Is Yours
75. “Welcome To The Occupation” – Loyalty to Loyalty
74. “Flying Upside Down” – Mine Is Yours
73. “Pine St.” – Tuxedos EP
72. “Free to Breathe” – LA Divine
71. “Hair Down” – Robbers & Cowards
70. “In Harmony In Silver” – This Will All Blow Over In Time
Worth Multiple Listens
Many of these songs are acquired tastes. If you like CWK then you should give these a few listens before truly appreciating them,
69.“Rubidoux” – Robbers & Cowards
If you stick around after the end of this song, you can hear the demo for “Sermons” which actually makes this song even better.
68. “Mine Is Yours” – Mine Is Yours
67. “Against Privacy” – Loyalty to Loyalty
66. “Relief” – Loyalty to Loyalty
65. “Aeon” – Tuxedos EP
64. “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
63. “Love on the Brain” – Los Feliz Blvd
62. “Opium Tea” – This Will All Blow Over In Time
61. “Harold Bloom” – Hold My Home
60. “Open Up the Heavens” – LA Divine
59. “Invicible” – LA Divine
58. “Dreams Old Men Dream” – Loyalty to Loyalty
57. “Coffee Spoon” – Behave Yourself
56. “No Reason to Run” – LA Divine
55. “Expensive Tastes” – Live From Fingerprints
54. “Bitter Poem” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
Every one of these is a good song, just not the best that CWK has to offer. Definitely worth listening to whenever they come up.
53. “Bulldozer” – Mine Is Yours
“Luck Down” – LA Divine
52. “One Song At A Time” – Five Quick Cuts
51. “Don’t Look Down On Me (Bonus Track)” – Mine Is Yours
50. “Every Man I Fall For” – Loyalty to Loyalty
I never appreciated this song until I saw them play it live. It took the passion of a live performance for me to really understand what the song was about.
49. “A Million Eyes (From Stella Artois – The Chalice Symphony)” – Single
48. “Minimum Day” – Single
47. “Part of the Night” – LA Divine
46. “Fear & Trembling” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
45. “Hear My Baby Call” – Hold My Home
44. “Nights & Weekends” – Hold My Home
43. “Stop/Rewind” – Five Quick Cuts
42. “Water & Power” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
41. “Ordinary Idols” – LA Divine
40. “Amazing” – Five Quick Cuts
39. “You Don’t Come Through” – Tuxedos EP
38. “Cold Toes On The Cold Floor” – Mine Is Yours
37. “Quiet, Please” – The Paradiso Sessions
36. “Santa Ana Winds” – Behave Yourself
35. “Flower Drum Song” – Hold My Home
Hitting Their Stride
We are nearing the perfection, but not there yet. These are great songs, just not the absolute best that CWK has to offer. If these were the best songs that the band had ever released they would still be one of the best indie bands of the last decade. Yet, they get even better after these.
34. “Passing The Hat” – Robbers & Cowards
33. “Hold My Home” – Hold My Home
32. “Thunderhearts” – Five Quick Cuts
31. “Go Quietly” – Hold My Home
30. “A Change Is Gonna Come” – The Paradiso Sessions
29. “Drive Desperate” – Hold My Home
28. “Hear My Baby Call” – Hold My Home
27. “Loner Phase” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
26. “Hot Coals” – Hold My Home
25. “Lost That Easy” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
24. “Romance Languages #2” – Tuxedos EP
23. “Sermons” – Behave Yourself
22. “Hotel Anywhere” – Hold My Home
21. “Jailbirds” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
20. “Mexican Dogs” – Loyalty to Loyalty
Best of the Best
These songs are perfect. They are uniquely Cold War Kids, with deep lyrics, Nathan Willet’s signature voice, and are easy to listen to over and over and over again.
19. “Louder Than Ever” – Mine Is Yours
18. “Goodnight, Tennessee (Bonus Track)” – Mine Is Yours
17. “Love Is Mystical” – LA Divine
16. “Lost That Easy” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
15. “Bottled Affection” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
14. “I’ve Seen Enough” – Loyalty to Loyalty
13. “Can We Hang On?” – LA Divine
12. “Audience Of One” – Behave Yourself
The Behave Yourself EP was made up of songs that CWK never put on an album, but had been playing live for years. To me, this EP is a perfect little capsule of what makes CWK great. “Audience” is by far the best song on the EP. It’s been my ringtone for like five years, even though I sort of think song ringtones are dumb. I just keep it because it’s better than anything else I could have on there.
11. “Romance Languages #1” – This Will All Blow Over In Time
I really have no idea why this song took so long to be released. CWK released “Romance Languages #2” on the Tuxedos EP in 2013, but #1 didn’t see the light of day until 2019. This is, of course, assuming that CWK wasn’t being cheeky by giving the songs out-of-order numbers. “Romance Languages #1” is a much more full-fledged song with marimbas and a driving bass line. It’s got a feel that’s unlink any other CWK song.
10. “Royal Blue” – Mine Is Yours
For me, Mine Is Yours was kind of disappointing. The band spent too many songs trying to hit the Alternative Charts. They got away from what they do best. But “Royal Blue” is an example of what they do best. Many of the other songs on the album could have been done by any number of indie/alt rock bands. But “Royal Blue” could only have been done by CWK.
“I guess I’ve always been a bit of a fighter.”
9. “So Tied Up” – LA Divine
The best song off of LA Divine, it actually was improved upon with a second release that included more of the powerful vocals of Bishop Briggs (aptly titled “So Tied Up – moreBishop). The thumping drums mixed with the jaunty piano drive the song and Nathan Willet’s voice was made to be paired with a strong female vocalist like Briggs. CWK doesn’t collaborate much, but this one is perfect.
8. “Saint John” – Robbers & Cowards
Oh man…what a tune. It’s a song about a black man who killed his sister’s would-be rapist and is now on Death Row. Willet half sings half raps this heartbreaking tale. But, more than the lyrics, the slow, grooving bass coupled with the crashing symbols and the tambourine are the only instruments even used until the piano comes in at the end. It’s a sparse arrangement, telling a tale of a man stuck in a sparse cell.
7. “Miracle Mile” – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
After the disappointment that was Mine Is Yours, CWK could have gone a number of different directions. They could have tried again with the attempts at mainstream success, they could have gone off the deep-end of artistic expression and strangeness, or they could have come out with “Miracle Mile.” Fortunately, they delivered this shot across the bow as their first single off of Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. This song rescued the band and set them on the course that they are on now. It’s a frenetic, piano-driven song showcasing the best that CWK has to offer.
6. “All This Could Be Yours” – Hold My Home
Following up the success of Dear Miss Lonelyhearts was difficult and I was nervous that they might not do it. Then, they released “All This Could Be Yours” and I realized that they’d finally found the formula for consistency that they’d been seeking in their music.
5. “First” – Hold My Home
To date, this is CWK’s highest charting single, and for good reason. It’s definitely the most mainstream song they’ve ever released, but it’s still very much a CWK song. You’ve heard this one on commercials, in TV shows, and probably in movies. It’s a soaring anthem even though the lyrics are telling the story of a person spiraling out of control. UPDATE: As part of TWABOIT they released the demo of “First” and I might like that even better. It’s more stripped down, less soaring and anthemic. It’s great.
4. “We Used To Vacation” – Robbers & Cowards
I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard a song where the music and lyrics so perfectly capture a mood. This song tells the story of an alcoholic father coming to grips with the destruction he’s caused to his family.
The lyrics are biting: “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 music is, at times, uncomfortable, with the shaker in the background, the dissonant chords being smashed on the piano, and the crashing symbols. Seeing this song performed live is a treat.
3. “Fashionable (Bonus Track)” – Mine Is Yours
For some reason, a couple of my favorite songs on Mine Is Yours are the bonus tracks. This strange song is a long one and it starts out very simple and quiet. It’s just about a woman and the simplicity of a black dress, but it begins to swell and eventually Willett is asking the question “Who will sweep you off your feet?” over and over again. It’s hard to describe exactly what I love about this song, but I think it’s great.
2. “Hang Me Up To Dry” – Robbers and Cowards
This is where it all got started for CWK. The song that would take them to late night shows, win them early critical notice, and get their first album off the ground. You’ve definitely heard this one through the years.
1. “Hospital Beds” – Robbers & Cowards
This song takes me back to high school, riding around in my friend’s car. See, she was the one person we knew that was cool enough to go to Austin City Limits and she came back raving about this band. I’d already heard “Hang Me Up To Dry” but when she played “Hospital Beds” for us, I knew that this band was special. This unique, piano-driven song about hospital beds and bringing buckets by the dozen changed the way I listened to music forever. I was fully into this band, and now ten years later, I still am. Thanks Brynn, I’m glad you got to go to ACL. I still haven’t made it.