There can be a fine line between a style element and an overused go-to. With a lot of the post-rock I’ve been hearing lately, that go-to seems to be laying down a quiet, melody-driven tune, waiting until you’re near the end, then kicking in the distortion and ramming out chords for a minute or two. Over and over. How the Other Half Live and Die from the trio Cold, Cold Heart doesn’t overdo this, but it’s done enough to figure in to my review of this quite solid album. Robert Manning, Chris Daniel, and Adrian Jones pull together a very listenable blend of folk influences and straight-up post-rock in an electro-acoustic framework. What I didn’t realize until I was reading up on the release is that, by design, it’s also percussion-free. That surprised me, as it certainly has strong rhythms, tempo shifts, and energy where it counts. It’s easy to glide through the songs here and never be aware of that omission. From the start, this album is warm and welcoming. “Hannah” sets the tone with slow-picked guitar, shining piano melodies, vocal pads, and the first few hints of that roughened edge that will show up throughout. The follow-up track, “Wolf Eyes, You’re Staring” is where they first really hit that quiet-to-slamming motif, and while I don’t mind it, on some listens I find myself wondering if I’d like it more had they just let it keep its deep-in-thought simplicity. The rough stuff only lasts for 40 seconds, so…why? I feel like the shift works better in the heartbreaking poetry of “An Elegy (For Martha).” It’s less raw than in “Wolf Eyes,” and layered through the song like emotion coming to the surface. Against a string backdrop and the easy interlacing of guitars and piano, it arrives with more meaningful impact—rather than just impact. It works well in “Mountain,” too, the distortion pushed in waves over a very ambient-style wash. Rising piano toward the end of the track adds a nice touch of drama, and when the roughness falls away to leave us with just piano and guitar, the effect is cleansing. That’s perhaps the best use of the quiet-to-rough concept on the album.
How the Other Half Live and Die is one of those albums that will find a comfortable and welcome home in my shuffle. It’s all beautifully played and rich with heartfelt emotion—which lets me overlook that overdone post-rock go-to. It’s a solid debut that suggests good things to look forward to as Cold. Cold Heart progress in their career.
Available from Bandcamp.