Since their modest beginnings as four guys who drove around southern California with their gear in their cars, practicing wherever they could steal a space, Cold War Kids have always exhibited two qualities in their music: intense passion and emotional truth.

Lithe and percussive, roaring and tuneful, the soul-punk on the Long Beach quartet's first two albums "Robbers & Cowards" (2006) and "Loyalty to Loyalty" (2008) emerged like miniature gothic novels. Singer Nathan Willett channeled taut dramas of men on the edge, families in peril, and crises of faith. The musical literature of these four tight-knit friends — Willett, Jonnie Russell, Matt Maust and Matt Aveiro — was a sound that augured something bigger, something more universal.

Now, that "something" has arrived in "Mine Is Yours," the quartet's third album for Downtown Records, due for release on January 25, 2011.

More intimate than anything Cold War Kids have done to date, the new album is a collection of songs dealing with the push and pull of human relationships, the glue that holds them together, and the equilibrium they sometimes find. "Mine Is Yours" finds the foursome at their most sonically potent, and Willett at his most revealing and vulnerable.

"These are portraits of relationships and commitment — what is holding these things together and what does it all mean?" the singer says. "A lot has happened in the last two years — long tours, marriage, relationships, people going different directions. I felt the need to be more personal, to show the many sides of me."

That urge came at a critical time for the band, who harbored a fierce independence from the days they were making songs in a Fullerton apartment, recording them raw, and playing them in claustrophobic Los Angeles clubs. Their DIY ethic engendered an innate distrust of anyone outside their inner circle, but, as Willett and his mates came to realize after "Loyalty to Loyalty," it may have limited them creatively too. "I remember thinking that if 'Loyalty' is the last record we do, I'd be disappointed," Willett says. "It was a step, but I thought, 'We have to be about something bigger.'"

Cold War Kids also wrestled with the notion that being "indie" is somehow antithetical to being ambitious — that wanting to make music on a larger scale can compromise one as an artist.

"But if you and your friends are just sitting back and speculating in the abstract about what compromise is or isn't, you're not doing anything, are you? You need to be in the moment. Our band started from a thousand hours of late-night drinking talking about what it would be like to do this. But you don't want to be an eternal student. There have been a bunch of great indie bands in recent years that have earned deserved success, and they got there by going for it."

This led Cold War Kids to work for the first time with an outside producer, Jacquire King. King, who has worked with the likes of Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Norah Jones and Modest Mouse, produced "Mine Is Yours" over the course of two sessions in Nashville and Los Angeles. During these sessions, they expanded on the quartet's signature sound while keeping intact its minimalist elements.

"It's a more produced record with more textures, but it still sounds like us," Willett says. "Overall, there's just a broader sonic palette."

Working with King turned out to be a revelatory experience. "We needed somebody we could fight with a little bit, in a respectful way," Willett says. "On the first two albums, we really had nobody saying, 'What if you tried this?' If somebody asks you 'Why is this a certain way?' and you don't have a good answer, and you have to rethink it, that's a good thing. We ended up having a pretty easy relationship. He was more of a listener and a reactor."

The result is Cold War Kids' most fully formed music to date, an album they only imagined they could have made back in the days of their guerilla practices and late-night conversations. Passion and honesty — "Mine Is Yours."

"Everyone becomes sea urchins and rats at night," says PAPA's Darren Weiss, laughing slyly. "It's the nature of being young."

Like with an inside joke you know, you smirk along, succumbing to a moment of reverie. The suggestion of crawling so close to the dirt floods in bastard memories. And so, when the versatile drummer, singer and principle songwriter next puts his band's musical efforts in simple terms such as, setting out to make "American soul music with a punk-rock mentality" on its forthcoming EP, A Good Woman is Hard to Find, you nod along, like, yeah that sounds about right.

There's a poetic purity that runs through the songs, suggesting devious truths and well told lies, rolling along with a natural swagger that thoughtlessly evokes hard-hitting shakes and slow-swinging shimmies. Weiss' earnest vibrato often takes on a Springsteen-like growl in its best moments, crooning reminiscences on "I Am The Lion King," "I got to make a you a woman. You got to make me a man." In each song's groove there's a dangerous sexiness to PAPA-the furious grip of the dance floor, the cold pavement outside, and the way you kiss when you're not sure you'll ever see the person again or whether you'd even want to.

A Good Woman is Hard to Find is an album as ripe for romance as it is partying. It has moments of aggression and simple bliss, with a classic sense of harmony, melody and style. It's a modern, rough-and-tumble take on classic soul, without a doubt. With the help of Weiss' musical partner, friend-since-childhood, bassist Danny Presant, the tracks gain a hip-hop sensibility that separates PAPA from simple revivalists and instead into timeless territory. It's an exacting and revelatory ode to what's wrong with modern romance but what won't stop one from giving it another go. Meanwhile, the cover art shows a waifish, made-up girl, smoking a cigarette, smiling with a come-hither wink that suggests a good time but history argues otherwise. Here we go again. It's an instant testament to our hero's exhausting trials in love and those superficial layers that brutally slice through once promising, meaningful connections.

Weiss and Presant grew up in Los Angeles and have always had a home in California. Weiss is also a passionate painter and writer of prose.

PAPA's A Good Woman is Hard to Find will be released October 4th on Hit City U.S.A. and Psychedelic Judaism.

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