By Nathan Pavolko
Recently San Fransisco has been a hard place for a musician. With the cost of living on the rise, many bands have been forced to relocate or quit all together. Especially with a looming millionaire culture ever growing, it’s difficult for the middle and lower class to keep afloat. Dark times have fallen over the San Fran music scene; however experimental pop rock group Cold Beat has stood their ground. Channeling some of that struggle into a fiery optimism, the group sets their eyes towards the sky with their second full length release Into The Air. After their incredibly catchy debut LP, Over Me, the band runs with a more avant-garde approach. Toying with the diverse tones of synthesizers and the tight precision of a drum machine, Cold Beat begins their journey into the unknown.
The band has an astounding resemblance of a 70’s UK pop punk band given the writing style and warm retro production. Kicking off the record with an upbeat edge is the song “Bruno.” A sharp guitar riff cuts in and out as a punchy bass and tight drums drop in to lay the foundation. Bassist/Songwriter Hannah Lew’s angelic vocals lift the song into a catchy dream pop atmosphere. Then they do something unexpected and go into a relaxed spoken word break, similar to the likes of Wire. Keeping the pace strong, “Outrunning Shadows” relentlessly charges forward in a flurry of scratchy guitar. Playful vocals glide over top the hard hitting tune, gradually getting more belligerent as the song comes to a close. I like how near the end they add a really cool echoing effect to the vocals and guitar, making for a refreshing end to a short but sweet tune.
Next up is “Broken Lines” a brilliant pop gem that could easily be played on a hip college radio station. It eases up on the intensity compared to the first two tracks but breathes such a melodic chime, it’s sure to get stuck in your head. A chugging bass and drums keep the song rolling as intricate guitar melodies overlap each other. I can’t get past how beautiful the chorus of the song is, it feels almost orchestrated. Lew’s talented vocal hooks really shine through in “Broken Lines,” experimenting with big pop harmonies. She briskly sings along with the back-ups “Don’t know which path to follow // Wandering down my broken lines,” calling for an end to her indecision. If The Pretenders had a punk edge this song is what it would sound like. Cold Beat’s curious venture into pop is a wonderful change, brightening the corners from the bands previously dark disposition.
“Am I Dust” is a simple yet great story of woe with a psychedelic surfer rock vibe. Lew singing of her heart bloodied, broken and left behind by the one she loved. A chill bass groove fits the pocket with its subtle fills, as a clean echo of the guitar rings its chords. The combination of the reverb soaked vocals and echoing guitar take the chorus to a swirling whirlwind of musical tones. With that “Am I Dust” ends the more traditional first half of the record, tastefully refining their pop punk sound. From here on the band delves deep into experimentation. Resorting back to their darker writing style, Cold Beat plays with their new found love of 80s electronica.
A racing arpeggiator and tap of the snare start off their single, “Cracks.” A deep looming synth sets the tone for an eerie vocal melody and cut straight into a noisy jangle of the guitar. This song has some serious weight to it, like black hole inside a dark cavern, extremely dense and chaotic but beautiful and captivating all the same. “Cracks” is an odd choice for a single in a pop sense because there is no blatant hook to grab hold of, yet it perfectly depicts the metamorphosis the band is undergoing. It captures the brooding sound they began with while placing stepping stones for a more diverse musical landscape.
The two tracks that truly hit home on their preliminary escapade are “Spirals” and “Ashes.” These songs deliver the expression of the 80s in the most modern variety. In many respects I think the indie bands of today capture a more fulfilling 80’s sound than the pop bands of the 80’s ever did. They laid the gravel while we poured the cement, solidifying what was already in place. “Spirals,” their second single, has a hypnotic brooding like a depressed version of Blondie. Haunting vocals, a bubbly low end synth, and tumbling drums produce that classic flare resulting in what could’ve been the theme song to the movie Heathers. There is a certain wounded beauty to the song that gives way to a more intimate side of Cold Beat. “Ashes,” the closing track of the album, treats us with chilling synth and echoing layers of Lew’s gentle voice. The main melody to the synth is so natural it doesn’t sound like a keyboard; instead it’s as if they were bending thin sheets of aluminum hitting notes in a frigid wave. Both “Spirals” and “Ashes” feel genuine, a curious leap of faith toward the right direction. If the band continues on this path, I think they could have something really great.
Cold Beat presents a musical "big bang” of creativity with Into The Air, creating an array of soundscapes to explore. With the natural warmth of the production, it imparts a nostalgic feeling across the entire album. Showcasing a notable pop sensibility with a post punk edge and the investigation of electronic instruments, this record is the colorful transition of a maturing group. Few bands can pull off such a change, for many it takes a few releases, yet I believe their chemistry speaks for itself.