Cold & Kind
s catchy as a smallpox culture!” First blogger to post this crass quip gets all the unsolicited promos I’ve accumulated while moiling away here at Stylus. (B.C. Camplight! Yay!)
For the lucky ones not aware of the joke: Owing to drummer Tim Minnick’s employment with the University of Illinois at Chicago, the 1900s recorded their debut EP, Plume Delivery, at a studio built for that institution’s bioterrorism-preparedness program. After the weekday sessions committing lectures to tape wrapped, the Chicago seven-piece hunkered down on the weekends to record songs that gleaned everything from the fuzztone and Farfisa of Biff Bang Pow! (“Flight of the Monowings”) to the feathery instrumentation of the Bicycles’ The Good, The Bad and the Cuddly (“Whole of the Law”).
Cold & Kind is another helping of smallpox-catchy hysteria, a full-length that eclipses the orchestral pop maneuvers found on its predecessor. When Plume Delivery was cut, the band had yet to play a live gig; in the EP’s wake, the 1900s did countless shows in Chicago and Champaign, Ill., as well as festivals like SXSW and Lollapalooza. All the gig hours logged show in the songwriting, which is more cohesive, more aware of which pop constructs work (and which don’t), and more thematic without the effort of laying on added instrumentation (the tunes are pretty cottony thick to begin with).
The full-length proves the 1900s know how to properly mete out tasks. And when you’re dealing with seven distinct talents in a band . . . well, that’s a tad important. On the ‘60s oblation “Cold & Kind,” the most devilish lines are handled by the group’s female vocalists (Jeanine O’Toole and Caroline Donovan): “I don’t believe I ever told you something about my murderous mind / That it’s cold and kind, and filled with hate.” Psychosis never sounded so snuggly.
The 1900s also know about moderation. Again: seven members, distinct talents, etc., etc. Standout track “The Medium Way” is about assuaging the pain over failed creative aspirations by finally waiving the white flag at mediocrity (“Would it be so beige / Living on a medium wage?”). It’s a ply-your-trade vs. piss-on-your-trade thumb-war brilliantly reflected in the music itself: melodramatic strings buried deep in the mix, balanced by piano brio and rollicking bass.
“When I Say Go” bounces with Spoon-like key tickling before featuring a 1900s’ staple: turn-on-the-dime tempo shifts. The song retreats to maudlin strings and wordplay (“All the world is cold”), and then charges once again with a prickly guitar solo. “No Delay” plays like a bit by My Latest Novel, with its jocund boy-girl vocal arrangements (calling to mind the Pines) and a penchant for mood over method.
Equally compelling is “Supernatural,” which features vocalist and guitarist Edward Anderson eschewing the band’s multi-pronged, plump songwriting for lo-fi fumbling, naked emotionalism, flecks of horn, and cymbal taps. It’s the perfect showcase for his rather warm, amiable tones.
The 1900s’ full, ambitious sound calls to mind Casper & the Cookies on its best day, Belle & Sebastian on its worst. Its let’s-conquer-the-world pop—the sound of having one original idea and letting it joyously spiral out of control. The cynic lurking within wonders how 1900s can maintain a career of such breadth and enthusiasm, but you know what? Fuck it. Cold & Kind doesn’t demand such negative guesswork. Hit play and ride that frisson of delight until you burn out.