The Cold War Kids want respect. Over their career, they have seemingly taken to heart every middling review they’ve ever received, pouncing on flourishing trends and adapting their sound with each new album, from the gritty soul of 2006′s Robbers & Cowards to the murky experimentation of 2008′s Loyalty to Loyalty to the arena-tailored reverb-rock of 2010′s Mine is Yours. But instead of sounding eclectic, they’ve mostly sounded confused.
The band’s fourth album, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, is another stylistic shake-up. With new recruit Dann Gallucci (formerly of Modest Mouse) replacing longtime guitarist Johnnie Russell, Cold War Kids have shed the expansive, twin-guitar approach of Mine is Yours in favor of a quirkier, sparser, synth-driven sound. It’s another bold move — one that puts more emphasis on frontman Nathan Willett’s blaring, soulful voice. Lead single “Miracle Mile” is the most hard-hitting track they’ve ever penned, Willett warbling over a surge of bar-room piano and Matt Aveiro’s primal pound. It’s the sole moment of familiarity on an album of colorful new twists: The creeping “Lost that Easy” buzzes with electronic hi-hats and new-wave synth-bass; “Bottled Affection” marries hip-hop programming to drizzled guitar noise and a monster chorus falsetto; the closing “Bitter Poem” is a slow-building ballad, laced with melancholy keys and grizzled sax. But Cold War Kids sound at ease in the messiness, rejuvenated by the sprawl — as if they’ve finally learned to write for themselves, regardless of who else may be listening.