They've been around for years, a staple of the medium-sized print bands that shuffle casually into the middle of every festival poster. It's now been 10 years since I first heard "We Used to Vacation" in a tiny military town in the midst of Idaho. The song became a regular in shuffles shared with my friends, and I always pointed out the line that hooked me in the first place.
"I'm just an honest man. Provide for me and mine. I give a check to tax deductible charity organizations."
That line, dropped into a song about a struggling middle class working man with a slight drinking problem and normal person problems, defined Cold War Kids' style as much as the bar romp piano and riff-y guitar that it stood next to.
Their style has changed a little over time. Their first two albums were stories not so much about characters, but from the characters themselves. A shift occurred later, for better and for worse. But on the better end you get songs like the rousing "First" and the heartfelt "Water & Power".
When think about Cold War Kids' popularity, I think of a band always trapped on an endless plateau. They are liked, but rarely loved. They are not well known, but they are hardly obscure anymore. Yet when I think of them, I think of them as the band who opened for Death Cab for Cutie and blew them out of the water, a band who tells stories as well as any band not named The Hold Steady, and a band who you need to listen to more than you do.