Since David Drouin formed his “dream band” in mid-2014, Cold Engines has completed three albums. The latest, Better Off Dead, may be its best yet. A diverse 12-song offering, it brings the funk right away on the leadoff track “Show You Crazy.” It then shifts gears to Ryan Adams-flavored Americana on the sweet “Sing to Me,” a tune made mesmerizing by guest harmonies from singer-songwriter Sarah Blacker.
The rest of the disc delivers as well. There’s tasty retro rock on “Waterfall” and the rave-up “Vegas Gold,” and even a few jazzy interludes — literally; three tracks clock in at barely a minute. The four-piece band is clearly having fun, and Drouin’s liberation from the stifling end of his previous band rings through every note.
Even though he spent a dozen years in The Brew, few of Drouin’s songs made it into the studio. That frustrating fact changed with Cold Engines.
“It was hugely freeing to be able to write any kind of song I wanted and record it within a week,” Drouin said in a recent interview. “To have nobody to answer to, to convince that it’s good enough.”
The project is both productive and energizing. Cold Engines includes ex-Brew drummer Aaron Zaroulis, percussionist Geoff Pilkington and bass player Eric Reingold (JamAntics, Greenlights), who recently took over for founding member Amelia Gormley. Everything still feels fresh, Drouin explained enthusiastically.
“It’s incredible, because it’s all pretty much new stuff at this point,” he said. “The first record’s no more than 15 months old and the second is not yet a year. The songs from this new one, people have been hearing for about a month. This much material so quickly is kind of asking a lot of our listeners, but we’re getting good feedback.”
There’s also plenty of critical acclaim. The band is a Rock Act of the Year nominee at the upcoming New England Music Awards — a bit to Drouin’s chagrin.
“We just put out a new album and got nominated for that award,” he said. “That may have come a little too soon for such a new band.”
When he’s reminded that his “new band” has a burgeoning catalog of 30-plus tracks, Drouin stays humble.
“That’s nice of you to say. A lot of those bands that were nominated have been around for seven, eight, 10 years,” he said. “Here we are like this kind of new thing with a sound nobody knows how to classify. … It’s kind of strange, but I feel flattered.”
The NEMA ceremony happens at Salisbury Beach’s Blue Ocean Music Hall on April 9; the North Shore venue is near Drouin’s home base. He’s pleased to see his musical community get some recognition — and respect.
“A lot of these bands up here get completely ignored by the Boston scene,” he said. “So it’s cool that someone stood up and said, ‘Here are the hard-working bands from New England, let’s give them some attention.’”
Even his past success with the Brew didn’t translate to deference in Boston when Drouin formed Cold Engines.
“It didn’t really matter how many times I sold out the Paradise or was crushing the main stages in the city; I mean, we played House of Blues,” he said. “It seemed like if you weren’t friends with the right two dudes, you would be completely overlooked.”
But Drouin is looking forward to a return on March 25 to the Shaskeen Pub in Manchester. He played the room frequently with The Brew, and several times since with his current band.
“I love it there, I think it’s the coolest club in central-esque New Hampshire,” Drouin said. “It’s just this wonderful back room with all wood, good stage, good sound and we’ve never had a bad show there. You know going in it’s going to feel good and you’re going to have a great show. It’s something in the walls.”