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House of Heroes - Cold Hard Want Album Cover

House of Heroes - Cold Hard Want

Reviewed by
9.5
House of HeroesCold Hard Want
Record Label: Gotee Records
Release Date: July 10, 2012
The title of House of Heroes’ fifth studio album Cold Hard Want derives from a line placed near at the beginning of the album: “It took a lot of cold hard want to get what I got,” but that begs the question of what “what I got” is in the first place—and whether we’d even want it at all. In fact, the track which the line comes from, “Out My Way”, begins with narrator/lead vocalist Tim Skipper wondering where everybody he loved went, before asking the chilling question, “If they could make me a carbon copy would you hate it? / Or would you even know they offed me?” If House of Heroes’ 2010 effort Suburba was all about presenting an image of our modern life, Cold Hard Want is all about deconstructing that idea and the values that come along with it. The result of sound and story colliding is one of the angriest, insightful, and powerful rock albums of the year.

This is as serious as House of Heroes have ever been, and it shows in the songs here: Cold Hard Want strips back the more poppy edges of the band and focuses on tightening the songwriting and melodies, making for one of the band’s leanest but meanest releases yet. First-half standout “Dance (Blow It All Away)” switches effortlessly between 4/4 and 2/4 time signatures, and an electrifying air of anticipation loom over the track. The transition from nimble verses to sing-along chorus to guitar solo to the reprise, stripped back to the drums and handclaps, is close enough to traditional rock structure to give the listener a sense of what to expect but never predictable, and the track hits on a lot of what makes House of Heroes such a powerhouse not only among the Christian rock market that they purportedly target but also among indie rock fans as well.

Fans of the band’s harder edge will no doubt be satisfied with balls-to-the-wall rockers like “Remember The Empire”, comparable at times to Muse’s rousing political anthems, or “Touch This Light”, a latter-half cut that has one of the album’s catchiest choruses—and certainly one of the best rhythmic motifs in the syncopation of the drums. The balance between loud and quiet is well-done, though; acoustic ballad “The Cop” is one of the album’s standouts, and “Angels of Night” has an incredible buildup from whispered drums and melodies to a soaring finale. As important as an instrumental palette is, good arrangements and songwritings matter just as much, and House of Heroes utilize both to make for a consistently sprawling and rewarding musical journey.

Thematically, Cold Hard Want is a continuation of what was explored in Suburba, and the arrangement of the album brings out the clash of values: Cold Hard Want is really a two-part act. Note, first of all, that excluding finale “I Am A Symbol” (we’ll save that for later), the album opens and closes in acapella; this choice lends opener “A Man Who’s Not Afraid” an almost prophetic vibe as the lyrics speak of the titular man who is unafraid of both life and death. The following four tracks are largely reminiscent in tone, as “Out My Way” grapples with the history that we as a society are failing to uphold, “Dance (Blow It All Away)” points out that change is possible—but as Skipper sings, “If we start the fire then we can’t turn back / We either gotta stay, or blow it all away!” “Remember The Empire” calls actively for change and “We Were Giants” is largely a lament of how far we have fallen. The tone in the first half is aggressive but still bright and poppy, but it’s the second half where things get shifty.

While the links to Suburba are mostly subdued in Cold Hard Want, the most blatant reference to that album comes in “Comfort Trap”. Skipper immediately opens with the conceit of the song, “A house and a wife and two and a half / I lost my dream in the comfort trap,” he sings over a creepily low-key guitar and drum serenade, before going into grisly details of how he “killed my dream with a butcher knife.” It’s telling that Skipper’s voice tip-toes in the (quiet) verses before rising to a furious growl in the (LOUD) chorus, and even the lyrics take on a disturbing tone as he screams, “I'm gonna have my cake and eat it too / And what I don't eat I'm gonna force feed you”. The effect is chilling: as secure as the good life can be, it’s also a prison in many ways, and “Comfort Trap” explores the darker psychological side of giving up our ambitions for convenience. Nothing could be more ominous, not even the twisting mess of guitars and drums that close out the track.

Surprisingly, though, the weather actually brightens from there. “Touch This Light” and “Angels of Night” both utilize uplifting imagery and melodies to make their points, and though “Stay” is technically a confession of dependence and weakness (a reversal of the isolation explored in “The Cop”), the guitar here is refreshingly airy and the gang vocals hanging over the chorus give the song an optimistic charm that feels very hopeful, and more importantly very House of Heroes.

We begin to wrap up with the acapella “Curtains”, a reversal of “A Man Who’s Not Afraid”; while the opener put the burden on a chosen one, here the burden is on us, as Skipper asks us all to “Shine it on, shine it on / We can still get home”. “Curtains” is a short and sweet transition into true finale “I Am A Symbol”, one of the best songs this band has ever written. Though the melancholy organ chords that introduce the track are solemn, Skipper’s voice is resolute and quietly powerful: “One voice in the crowd is small / But if he speaks the truth / Then he speaks for all,” he declares over a looming thundercloud of drums and organ, a patch of light in what looks like a coming storm. His voice rises with the gradual climb of the track, which breaks into a anthemic rhythm in its second voice before peaking with a choir of voices declaring, “I will sing for truth / I will sing for light / When I’m gone, the flame keeps burning on”. Only here do we realize who the prophetic man who’s not afraid really is—he is everybody, he is Tim Skipper, and more than anybody else, he is you.

Too often, social activism is reduced only to criticism: we only talk about what things should be rather than what they really are. The act has been cheapened by how easy it’s become to be a so-called activist/critic as well, and that seems to have transferred into our art as well. Yes, Katy Perry kissed a girl, but is she really going against the grain of sexual barriers or just playing into our desire for rebellion?

That’s why it’s a relief to hear an album like House of Heroes’ latest: it’s a reminder that we, despite our shortcomings, still have this big ball of rock we’re stuck on together. We can only see so far, but in that space, we have the obligation to take along the other 7 billion people that are in the same predicament that we are. And sure, not everybody will cooperate, because social change is hard, and many would rather reinforce the status quo than have to venture into unknown territory, unafraid of life and death. But if one voice in the crowd speaks the truth, then he speaks for all; we just need to get more people to listen.

It’ll take a lot of cold hard want, but like Tim Skipper, I choose to believe that the future is bright--if we dare to look.

9.5/10
This review is a user submitted review from blue_light_888. You can see all of blue_light_888's submitted reviews here.
 
Displaying posts 1 - 6 of 6
05:10 PM on 07/10/12
#2
tylerschnizzle
Freelance Thinker
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One of my all-time favorite bands. I really liked how you described this album.... at first I thought that they were straying too far from the concepts of their previous two records. But I can see some comparisons to Suburba now. Still, I think the band is best when Skipper can tell an overarching story. This is an awesome album though... this band deserves more attention.
09:37 PM on 07/10/12
#3
blue_light_888
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One of my all-time favorite bands. I really liked how you described this album.... at first I thought that they were straying too far from the concepts of their previous two records. But I can see some comparisons to Suburba now. Still, I think the band is best when Skipper can tell an overarching story. This is an awesome album though... this band deserves more attention.

This album was jarring on my first listen, especially on the heels of something as sugary as Suburba, but the more I listened the more I noticed little similarities slipping through. I thought it was pretty interesting how they took what's basically the same theme and basically flipped it/interpreted it completely differently from head-to-toe.

As for your second point, I can't really contend, because I'm only mildly familiar with TEINTE, and I haven't heard their early work yet. But you're right; this band does a REALLY good job at writing stories ("Love Is For The Middle Class" from the last album is one of the best songs I've heard about love...like ever).

This band definitely deserves all the attention they get!
12:18 PM on 07/12/12
#4
Theow593
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Their best album.
10:01 PM on 07/25/12
#5
oncedarkness
Listen to Josh Garrels
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Nice work on perfectly articulating my thoughts on this album. I'm blown away by it...I can see this easily getting up there with The End is Not the End. Tim Skipper is at his vocal and lyrical best. Again, great review.
07:37 PM on 08/10/12
#6
theherox
As of 10/3, pronounced "Thoreau"
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Nice work on perfectly articulating my thoughts on this album. I'm blown away by it...I can see this easily getting up there with The End is Not the End. Tim Skipper is at his vocal and lyrical best. Again, great review.
Tim Skipper doesn't write the lyrics. He has a few inputs on this album, but it has almost always entirely been bassist AJ Babcock, who sadly doesn't tour with the band live very often anymore.

But I agree...it's definitely Tim Skipper at his best vocally

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