Album Review: Cold War Kids – L.A. Divine

Sunday, May 7, 2017

When I first heard Cold War Kids back in 2006, It was via the release of their debut album Robbers and Cowards, and I couldn’t get enough. I loved their off-kilter sound and their slightly misplaced rhythms supported by Nathan Willett’s soaring, bluesy vocals. 

I was won over with loose trembling tracks like ‘We Used to Vacation’ and ‘Hang Me Up to Dry’. These tracks were raw and unconventional and set the band tilting on the edge of indie rock god status. 

Since that first offering, the California natives have released five more studio albums and seven EPs. The latest in this long line-up of musical gifts is their sixth studio album, L.A. Divine. It’s taken me a few listens, but it’s safe to say I think I’ve had enough of the Cold War Kids. 

It’s not that this album is bad, there’s nothing obviously wrong with it; it’s just not that memorable. There’s no ‘Miracle Mile’ or ‘Hospital Beds’ standout. This is especially disappointing considering the inspiration for this album stems from the weirdness of LA, with Willett quoted as saying, “In many ways, LA is the least divine city, the most hedonistic and irreverent and disconnected from history”. 

It’s a shame then that little of this hedonistic irreverence made it onto the album. It doesn’t feel wild and rambling and brave, it feels a little flat. The 14 tracks sound too similar — as if the band is using the same recipe and simply tweaking the rhythm, and occasional lyric as the album goes on. 

The decision to include three short interludes, ‘LA River’, ‘Wiltshire Protest’ and ‘Camera’s Always On’ is a confusing one. Placed between tracks, these short bursts feel uninspired and awkward. The spoken lyrics on ‘Wiltshire Protest’ especially made me curl up with embarrassment. Willett comes across like a middle-class white guy at an amateur slam poetry contest, ‘my chemicals are spiking like a lie detector, dopamine, serotonin, happiness is not the answer’.

While this latest effort is disappointing, there are a few tracks that save this album from being a complete disaster. ‘So Tied Up’ featuring British babe of the moment Bishop Briggs is a passable if not entirely exciting track. While ‘No Reason to Run’ and first released single ‘Love is Mystical’ are catchy enough to make you tap your toes a few times. 

However, one of the more impressive moments comes with final track ‘Free to Breath’. A stripped back offering, this song allows Willett’s vocals to stand tall without the irritating thumping bass that dominates most of the other tracks on this album. 

Overall, L.A. Divine is not a bad album; it’s just not inspiring to listen to more than once. It’s a formulaic cluster of 14 songs that long-term fans of the band will probably push through out of love, but who will ultimately be disappointed by the lack of thrilling, experimental rhythms.  

Written by Rowan Montgomery