Cold Beat Finds Humanity in the Chaos on “Mother”

Cold Beat never make it easy, which is why I’m obsessed with them and probably why they seem to appeal to a tiny sliver of an audience. Their latest album, Mother, has so much going on that nothing feels right except to hurl a bunch of contradictory adjectives at it: it’s eerie, comforting, warm, icy, catchy, and also near-impossible to fully figure out. After the more spare Chaos By Invitation, songwriter Hannah Lew went for more of a collaborative approach on this album, which is their densest, most experimental effort yet, while also being their most human.

This is another album by the band that defies categorization, but it lands somewhere in the synth-pop realm, with clear inspiration from bands like The Eurythmics (who were the subject of a Cold Beat covers EP). Lew surrounds herself with a variety of synths and tightly wound rhythms, which give the band a clarity and purpose even with the undecipherable or vague lyrics. It is hard to gather meaning from the songs, but it is easy to tell they do mean something, or they wouldn’t be played with this conviction. The standout second track, “Prism,” has only a few lyrics about shapes, yet it is defined by its non-stop piling on of sounds and its driving motorik beat, which lend it a bracing sense of urgency.

All through the album, Cold Beat experiment with their sound with ten tracks that all sound different from each other while clearly being the result of a single-minded effort. “Paper” is loaded with a saxophone part and something that sounds like a theremin, while “Through” has the band’s most pulsing, danceable rhythms to date with tight repetitive synths. Holding all of this madness together is Lew’s understated melodies and vocal performances, which are what allow the band to merge humanity and electronics so well. Her strongest effort is on the shimmering ballad “Double Sided Mirror,” a definitive Cold Beat song that is strange, intangible and psychedelic, yet also heartfelt.

Lew wrote Mother while she was pregnant, with the goal of describing earth to a newborn. That’s probably why this album feels like it’s trying to capture so much, and mostly succeeding: it’s a portrayal of the world, with all of its weirdness, chaos, and randomness, but also those little human moments that give people hope. The structure of Cold Beat’s music allows listeners to be intrigued by the sound, then to latch onto those moments, whether it’s a simple lyric that jumps out, a catchy hook, or a distinct instrumental aside like that saxophone part in “Paper.” For some listeners, I’m sure it will all be too abstract and those moments will never come. Those who let this album work its magic on them will find it to be one of the most thoughtful and addictive albums of the year.

Let Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s New Single Calm You

At this point, this blog serves as an unofficial P.R. wing for Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Her 2017 album, The Kid, was my favorite album of the last decade and its predecessor, Ears, ended up in my top 50 also. I’ve long been resistant of using hyperbolic praise for musicians, but it’s not like any of this matters, so screw it: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is a genius, and her new single, “Expanding Electricity,” is further proof of that claim.

The timing on this single couldn’t have been better: the virus sweeping the world is the most terrifying thing that has happened in my lifetime (it scares me more than 9/11 did, I think), and I’ve been living in isolation for the last week, though that isn’t necessarily a drastic shift from my usual routine. This song serves as a reminder that good things still exist in the world, and will hopefully exist after this is over. Inspired by electricity and the body, Smith’s latest runs over 10 minutes, with multiple distinct movements, similar to the closer on Ears, “Existence in the Unfurling.” This feels like her densest song so far, as its packed with strings, synths, and vibraphone, while also continuing to showcase her increasing confidence as a vocalist. The sheer volume of stuff going on remains a key draw to Smith’s music; every second over this entire long run time is packed with the joy of discovery and wonder.

Smith’s unbounded positivity and wide-eyed view of the world is so uncynical that I find it sort of jarring — like, how can anyone see what is happening out there and still make music that contains this much hope. A critic could say it is rooted in privilege and naivete, but even if that’s the case, the sounds she makes are so spellbinding and such an authentic translation of Smith’s personality into music. Without any context from the album to draw from, it is hard to say how this single stacks up to The Kid, which had a narrative thrust that added layers of meaning to her synth experimentations, which could otherwise just feel like random blippity-bloopity sounds. So rather than compare, for the time being I’m content to just absorb this song, with all of its little details and quirks. Even if this doesn’t end up being album of the decade material, Smith’s music will continue to serve as a much-needed light in the darkness.

Cold Beat’s “Prism” is the Early Song of the Decade

The biggest thing that has always stopped me from being successful as a writer is my inability to produce something when I don’t really feel inspired. When it comes to music, I have no idea how some of these people get themselves fired up to write about albums every single week when most music isn’t all that great. My laziness and inability to pretend to like things means that just getting me to throw a post together is something of an accomplishment, and I use it as a marker of success if anything is able to get me to care enough to write. Cold Beat is one of the only bands that consistently makes me want to throw a shout into the internet echo chamber in the hopes that someone will hear it.

It is difficult to discuss Hannah Lew’s band and not have it be through the lens of how underappreciated they are — I don’t even say “underrated” because they aren’t even rated. Genuinely no one talks about this band other than me. I might actually be their biggest fan, and maybe I should give up and accept that they just don’t appeal to other listeners because they’re all worse at appreciating music than I am. Their new song “Prism” makes me want to keep fighting, though.

This is from their upcoming album, Mother, written during Lew’s pregnancy, and it feels like a strong continuation from their previous album, Chaos By Invitation, which I lauded to a largely indifferent pseudo-audience. With few lyrics, there isn’t much to grab onto in terms of themes, but musically it is a distinct work from the band, who have really carved out their own space in all of these 80s synth pop acts. Cold Beat is still really into purposeful ambiguity — the lyrics aren’t telling the listener anything, but I still feel like there is a clear emotion and meaning to it and I’m always one listen away from figuring it out. Artists who can pull off that trick tend to be among my favorites, and it’s something Lew has shown a knack for even going back to her previous band, Grass Widow.

The ambiguity is part of what makes “Prism” addictive, along with its multiple repeating motorik grooves that are joined by some swirly synths that give it a celestial quality. The band is saying this album is trying to describe earth to a newborn, and the sounds here capture the ground and the sky, along with some of the wonders of looking up into space. Once again, Cold Beat have made a song that isn’t necessarily complicated on the surface and put in so many layers that keep revealing themselves. This is the work of a band in prime form, and Mother is instantly my most anticipated album of 2020.