Hello there y’all. I’ve probably never been more distracted when drafting an ARM blogpost before and this really does come as a warning. I’m in the middle of moving house and country of residence, lord Ryan Adams just dropped a thunderous and tenacious collection of 19 (!) B-sides to his recent, critically acclaimed, and ARM-grilled album Prisoner and, last but definitely not least, Californian soul-punk outfit letlive. split indefinitely two days ago to my overwhelmingly unpleasant surprise. Yet, I really want to gift my musical impressions to the world as well in regards to San Pedro, CA-based indie legends Cold War Kids’ highly anticipated sixth studio album LA Divine, which came out early last month on Friday 7th April.
However, before I dig into the main bit of this piece, I feel I owe letlive. a short, impromptu obituary that will hopefully help demonstrate my love and affection for the band and, most of anything, the impact they’ve had on me. As I spotted their official goodbye statement a couple days ago on my social media feed it was one of those moments where the first thing you do is rub your eyes and re-read the whole thing, just to double- or even triple check that you really saw what you saw. I guess I’ve been quite lucky and fortunate in my musical fandom life so far as I almost never had to go through such a frightening realisation for the bands I love most and I will never betray or forget. Whilst it’s true that Nirvana and The Police, arguably my top favourite musical representations of all time, were actually already defunct and no more by the time I even started getting into them, other major artistic and incredible living influences on me such as Taking Back Sunday, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam or even Blink-182 are all still rocking stronger than ever. Yet letlive., who became an immense part of my life and world-perception around 7 years ago and have gone on deeply affecting me ever since, really feel like the first true, real-time musical abandonment in my life.
Letlive.’s music, energy, devotion, and lyrics all felt to me more urgent and necessary than almost anything else out there, whilst their profound carefulness for longstanding racial and social issues served as endless inspiration to say the least. Moreover, experiencing the Los Angeles-based post-hardcore band live in concert was a whole universe and life-changing occasion of its own, as I humbly tried to account for in this note. Losing them as a musical outfit is an irreplaceable loss not only for my very own artistic spectrum but for the wider alternative and counter-reacting scene as well, as possibly now more than ever the world and music would have needed their protesting rage, insurgent rebellious nature, and willingness to fight back against the establishment. With this I’d just want to thank them for having existed and wish all of the members’ very well in this hard but apparently necessary decision.
II. 2002 – 20XX. F O R E V E R Soul Punx.
Back to our regularly scheduled programme, namely Cold War Kids’ latest 14-track effort LA Divine. I kind of have this theory where I think no good and superior art critic should ever review the same artist twice, as I feel doing so would detach them too much from that necessary fresh outlook that tends to kick in when someone is reviewing something for the first time, ultimately swallowing the critic into a subjective, self-reflecting and precedent-leaning rabbit hole that at the end of the day doesn’t benefit anyone. Thus, since I’m not a good and superior art critic myself, I feel ready to blindly omit the fact that almost exactly two years ago I already wrote – rather negatively – about Cold War Kids’ previous record Hold My Home.
The pre-release promotion for LA Divine was a rather ambitious one, with as much as four singles with correspondent music videos released in anticipation of the 44-minute long full-length effort. Incidentally, the San Pedro-native five piece decided to gradually release all first four songs on the tracklist in chronological order, paving the way with sparky and energetic lead single “Love is Mystical” on 2nd February, followed shortly after by the introspective and slower “Can We Hang On?” on 2nd March, and wrapping up with the Bishop Briggs soulful collab “So Tied Up” as well as 5-minute epic “Restless” in short succession just weeks before the full album release. Looking back, this really does feel like an interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive choice, as the four tracks aren’t too dissimilar from each other at all – that is, piano-heavy, chorus-driven bangers that all lean more than one hand in both sounds and vibe towards Cold War Kids’ previous LP Hold My Home – whilst the rest of LA Divine has so much more to offer indeed. Truly noteworthy out of the singles-bucket are the opening track, with its potent intentions in both beat and lyrics, as well as “Restless”, a rather beautiful tribute to Los Angeles and its ability to shape love relationships (“I don’t get jealous, I get free / Everything good comes back to me / It seems like wherever you are / Is just a better place to be“) all embedded in carrying melodies with a groovy piano and catchy verses doing most of the job.
As previously hinted at, this album has way more to offer and enjoy though than its singles (unsurprisingly, given that with its 14 tracks LA Divine marks Cold War Kids’ longest release to date). As our good ol vinyls teach us, this record too is shaped in such a way to be divided into four main bits/themes, sequentially separated by something close to an interlude, or skit, or even filler, depending on what one prefers to call them (“LA River”, “Wilshire Protest”, and “Cameras Always On”). For instance, the first psych/lo-fi interlude “LA River” is followed by what is arguably the album’s most exciting part, with great cuts such as the live-like uplifting “No Reason to Run” as well as the gangstery “Open Up the Heavens”, which presents some of the best vocal harmonies on the whole album and comes with irresistible badass-guitars.
“Luck Down” and “Ordinary Idols” make up the main third bit of LA Divine, with the former being a solid enjoyable indie tune and the most aggressive and sped up cut of the LP, whilst the latter arguably representing one of the dullest and most boring moments, only to be partially saved by quite sublime lyrics (“Why would you idolize me? / There’s nothing I got that you don’t / You keep on fantasizing / I’ll always be the underdog“). It follows the social media/instagram-hysteria critique skit “Cameras Always On”, which then throws the listener to the final part of the record and boy, that is one hell of a closure. Both the gentle and beautiful “Part of the Night” as well as the spacey and ambient-driven “Free to Breathe” make for an excellent wrap up with a rising and extremely inspiring note. This is true especially for closing track “Feel to Breathe”, which sees Cold War Kids at their songwriting best whilst at the same time surprising the listener with unexpected guitar arpeggios and wonderfully sung by frontman Nathan Willett.
Overall, LA Divine might as well be Cold War Kids’ most inspired and coherent album in a decade, with the band’s signature groovy and R&B piano once more dominating all major tracks and undoubtedly entailing some of the band’s best songs ever written (see “Restless”, “Part of the Night”, “Free to Breathe”). Yet, the album does come with highly skippable moments as well (see “Can We Hang On?”, “Ordinary Idols”), while here and there one can’t help but feel like some of the material on this records just sounds a bit too second-hand and recycled from previous work, above all 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts and 2015’s Hold My Home (doesn’t “Love is Mystical” sound just like it could’ve come out of the same writing session as Dear Miss Lonelyhearts’ and Hold My Home’s lead singles “Miracle Mile” and “All This Could Be Yours”?). In other words, LA Divine could certainly have benefitted from more guitars and edgy sounds and less predictable piano-formula. It’s a shame, but nothing to despair. Cold War Kids might have been ok with rendering their home town of Los Angeles divine this time round, hopes for a switch to their songwriting abilities are high for what’s next to come.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
COLD WAR KIDS
2017, Capitol Records