Unsuspecting listeners hearing the opening notes of Cold War Kids' full-length debut should be forgiven for suspecting they've stumbled upon a new Spoon album, but the illusion doesn't last long. "We Used To Vacation" opens with a sinister piano line that gives way to an open, slightly chaotic sound as singer-pianist Nathan Willett launches a tale of one family's descent into alcohol. It's simultaneously catchy and a little chilling, much like the album that follows.
"Tell Me In The Morning" moves to a propulsive beat, but the refrain keeps asking somebody to "slow it down, slow it down." "Hang Me Up To Dry" keeps threatening to explode, but doesn't. Robbers & Cowards features considerable rock 'n' roll release, but little of the joy associated with it, and Cold War Kids work that tension for all it's worth. In that, the group owes a lot to some of the same post-punk sources that have been all over this decade's music, but their earthy passion can't be faked.
It can't always be sustained, either. After a great start, Robbers settles into a groove that's not quite a rut until perking up for the seething album-closer (not counting the hidden track) "Rubidoux" pulling it together for a memorable finale; Robbers suggests it won't be their last.