‘L.A. Divine’: eclectic and fresh

Photo courtesy of Brian Lowe

Cold War Kids released their newest studio album, “L.A. Divine,” on April 7. The now widely popular indie rockers maintain their usual style on the album, balancing a hard-driving blues sound with powerful and emotional lyrics. Fans of the band will be pleased to know that they have not drifted over to the pop side. While there are some songs on the album that are quite radio-friendly, as there must be, the members of the group make it clear that they have no intention of turning into a simple single factory.

The album opens with “Love is Mystical,” a poppy song driven by a simple but powerful keyboard riff, and this song serves as the lead single. The strength of the track comes from the complexity of the instrumental layering in the song and Nathan Willett’s powerful vocals. Together these factors elevate the song from a standard indie-pop cliché to an album defining single.

The next track, “Can We Hang On?” is more of the same — another fast paced, well layered, radio-friendly single driven by David Quon’s keyboard and Nathan Willett’s soaring and diving voice. While the subject of the song, pondering the approaching end of a relationship, is nothing new, Willett’s passionate vocals and the changing tempo keep the track fresh and exciting.

While the first two tracks are solid songs, they are both predictable indie-pop songs; then the singles stop, and the album truly begins with the third song, “So Tied Up.” Just as the listener begins to tire of the bluesy style of “Can We Hang On?” and “Love is Mystical,” the album flips to a more rhythmic soul style, bringing in Bishop Briggs as a guest vocalist.

“So Tied Up” layers a drum and clapping rhythm over a keyboard rhythm to create a song that, despite its fast pace, is not overly forceful or angry, as the group’s more common blues tracks can be.

The album continues in this different tone with the next track, “Restless,” which is slower than the first three songs and features a more optimistic vibe than most of the Cold War Kids’ work. The song’s catchy lyrics are sure to make it another popular single from the album.

Like most albums, “L.A. Divine” is front-heavy — the singles are stacked up at the beginning, and, as a result, the rest feels less polished.

In this case, however, the band treats the meat of the album as an opportunity to experiment, to branch out and to try different styles and sounds. One of the most interesting tracks on the album is “Luck Down,” a gritty, raw song that revives the garage rock sound of bands like the Stooges of the late 1960’s. “Luck Down” is placed immediately before “Ordinary Idols,” which features a quick tempo and a funky bass line. This juxtaposition of styles is representative of the eclectic mix of sounds that comprises the body of “L.A. Divine.”

The album ends with yet another shift of tone as the group adopts a much softer sound for the last two tracks, “Part of the Night” and “Free to Breathe.” By concluding the album with these tracks, the Cold War Kids remind listeners that their music goes deeper than the fast paced bluesy singles that the album opens with.

One of the other interesting features of the album is the inclusion of three startlingly short songs, “Cameras Always On,” “Wilshire Protest” and “L.A. River.” The tracks break up the monotony of the longer songs on the album, making it more digestible and creating natural divisions between sections.

“L.A. River,” though only about a minute long, is actually one of the best tracks from the album. The song concentrates the blues-rock sound the band is known for without all the indie-pop anger and tempo of the group’s singles. Left behind is pure, sincere blues magic.

“L.A. Divine” is easily the group’s best album yet since every song is refreshing. No band can make the same song over and over, and this album shows that the Cold War Kids will not try to.