There are certain elements of Cold Beat’s War Garden that are easy to connect to its origin story. Written and recorded by the Bay Area four-piece over Zoom in the early months of the pandemic, it contains at least two mentions of blue light and relies heavily on instruments better suited to computer recording than your average electric guitar—namely drum machines and synthesizers. Frontwoman Hannah Lew addresses the isolation and disorientation of life in lockdown directly enough, like on the Robyn-esque “Year Without A Shadow:” “I didn’t know how the lack of your touch undoes the back of me now.”
And yet, War Garden is an early pandemic album that feels like a post-pandemic one beamed from a strange and not-too-distant future, one in which the anthropocene has come to its tragic, greedy end and only the machines and the messy remnants of human consciousness are left. Case in point: album opener “Mandelbrot Fall” sounds like a newly sentient robot simultaneously experiencing despair, euphoria, and Bowie’s “Modern Love” for the first time.
Even at the album’s most panoramic, a pulse resonates from its innermost chambers. The beats are steady, self-assured, and ever-present. The intros are short and the outros are, on the whole, conclusive. Certain synth lines, like the ones on “Arms Reach” and “Rubble Ren,” are punched out with the unblinking staccato immediacy of computers talking to one another. Musically, it ventures close to Ultravox, New Order, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and (at certain angles) Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy—remember that? Lew is living in a digital world, and she is a digital girl.
Then comes album finale “New World,” in which Lew repeats insistently, “Will I be light in the new world?” You have to listen closely for it—she could just as easily be singing, “Will I be alive in the new world?” This is arguably War Garden’s animating struggle: one between the embodied and the ephemeral, between organic matter and ungraspable energy, between something real and something else entirely. The only certainty is the new world. The rest remains to be seen (and heard).