The sixth studio album from Cold War Kids, LA Divine, is a satisfying soulful record packed with great moments, and the band’s strongest work since their debut effort, Robbers and Cowards.
It begins in very similar fashion to the previous LP, Hold My Home; the first few tracks could easily belong on that album. ‘Love is Mystical’ is a suitably anthemic opener, while ‘Can We Hang On?’ revisits the catchy reverb and guitars sound used so well on 2014’s ‘First’.
Things then change up a little on the third number, ‘So Tied Up’, with Bishop Briggs adding her affecting vocals to the mix, with a sound distinguishing it from other tunes in the band’s bag of tricks.
But it’s at ‘LA River’ that things start to get really interesting. This is the first of three song fragments, each lasting around a minute, that punctuate the album. These unpolished and unshackled moments help to resolve the tension at the heart of the Cold War Kids, whose knack for the polished pop/rock tune can be at odds with the energy that comes out in the beautiful anarchy of their live performance.
After their first two albums, the band seemed to put the punk aesthetics aside when entering the studio, with a focus squarely on the finely constructed song. But on LA Divine, they find a way to celebrate both sides of their personality: these atmospheric fragments are effectively used to break up the soulful, polished gems.
The presence of the shorter tracks also has a freeing effect on the songwriting overall; so while the start of the album is packed with some of the more crowd pleasing moments, many of the best parts of the record can be found in the latter stages. The searching noir guitar riff at the foundation of ‘Open Up The Heavens’, for instance, harks back to frontman Nathan Willett’s great work with side project, French Style Furs.
On the second fragmentary piece, ‘Wilshire Protest’, things get a political (although the focus is kept personal), with a stream of consciousness on Trump’s America.
It’s then a very strong final chapter, with the thumping ‘Ordinary Idols’ and the plaintive ‘Part of the Night’, two of the best tracks on the album. ‘Free to Air’ is a sombre, atmospheric moment to finish on, with stripped back sound and an uncompromising lyric.
Produced by Lars Stalfors (who played keyboards with The Mars Votla and also worked on the previous two albums from the Cold War Kids), there’s a lot going on sonically, but everything is finely balanced. There’s a strong focus on the piano throughout the record and the vocals (both Willett’s powerful lead and the layered backing vocals) are probably the best in the band’s catalogue.
LA Divine is the confident work of a band in top form. It is released Friday 7th April in digital, CD and vinyl formats through Capitol/EMI.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor