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G#’s Musical Radar: Cold War Kids’ ‘L.A. Divine’ is its weakest LP yet

The indie rockers’ hometown tribute boasts a handful of memorable tracks but lacks creativity.

By Grant Sharples | April 12, 2017

Tags: Music Reviews

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There’s no denying that Cold War Kids established itself as an indie rock staple when it released Robbers & Cowards in 2006. Songs such as “Hang Me Up to Dry,” “Hospital Beds” and “We Used To Vacation” represented the perfect mix of then-modern indie and gritty blues rock. It’s been over a decade since its release, and Cold War Kids released its sixth full-length record, L.A. Divine, on Friday.

Leading up to L.A. Divine, the band’s albums became more and more polished with a pop sound. This style has been successful at times for the band, as proven by 2014’s “First” and 2013’s “Miracle Mile.” However, this deviation from the group’s original sound has ultimately been its downfall. This is apparent in L.A. Divine.

The move toward producing pop music doesn’t suggest an artistic choice but instead a desire to get more radio play. It seems obvious enough that the band tried to create an album full of radio-friendly singles with repetitive choruses. With L.A. Divine, it feels as though the album is one gigantic song.

Fluency is certainly a good thing, but hearing the same style over and over can become tiring. With that being said, about half of these tracks can stand alone quite well, but it’s when they’re clumped together as an album that it can become problematic.

Cold War Kids tries to make up for the large quantity of “singles,” all with the same sound and repetitive tendencies, by breaking them up with three interludes. These are definitely intended to bring an artistic character and sense of cohesion to the album, but the interludes are by far the worst part of L.A. Divine.

Each interlude feels like an unfinished thought or musical idea, and it seems the band was too lazy to give them the necessary thought and attention. Additionally, the second interlude, “Wilshire Protest,” is probably the worst attempt at a spoken-word piece I have ever heard. The instrumentals sound like they were borrowed from an obscure Tony Hawk-inspired video game from 2005. These instrumentals take away from the desired self-serious effect the band was likely going for. More importantly, the lyrics are downright detestable. For example: “Looking down at our phones for the fastest way to get home. Don’t text me that you’ll be late. I can wait.”

Negative commentary aside, there are still some wonderful tracks on L.A. Divine. One of the highlights includes “So Tied Up,” which showcases vocalist Nathan Willett’s impressive range and features up-and-coming solo artist Bishop Briggs.

“Restless” is an attempt to be the baby sibling of “First,” but it’s still memorable on its own, and the vocal work is powerful and soulful. “Open Up the Heavens” is a wonderful mix of the group’s old style. It retains the gritty guitar from its debut record, a well-needed escape from the bright and shiny nature of the rest of the album.

Willett’s vocal work is as extraordinary as ever. It shines through as a highlight on nearly every song. His soulful voice sparks feelings of triumph but also dejection. These two sentiments are perfectly executed in “Restless” and “Can We Hang On.”

L.A. Divine is definitely Cold War Kids’ weakest album yet. It lacks the creativity and inspiration that Robbers & Cowards had but features a handful of impressive songs that fans can walk away with or come back to at a later time.

MOVE gives L.A. Divine 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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