Love Is Mystical
In the Billboard Hot 100 at the writing of this review, two of the top songs (three and four, respectively) are “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar, and “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles. They are two relatively serious songs that deliver their themes in varying ways from each other. One making a point of humility in talent, one finding Bowie-esque comfort in what seems like the end of the world. But what is the motivation behind this relatively new subject matter change? 1997’s “Fitter Happier” by Radiohead, a musical example of the modern anxiety concerning human adaption to the integration of technology, is one example of a situation that would creep out artists like Kendrick Lamar and Harry Styles. Why would this scenario make these different artists uncomfortable? Because “Fitter Happier” is so close to sounding human, but something is slightly off. What is causing this dissonant uncanny valley? What is missing?
This is the opening message of Cold War Kids’ newest album, LA DIVINE. This sort of message is a hot topic right now, and is still progressing. Katy Perry has confirmed that we are chained to the rhythm, but doesn’t provide a solution, necessarily. That is what is directly being offered in the first song of LA DIVINE, “Love is Mystical,” championing authenticity over aesthetic in a culture that does not. Cold War Kids get big points for furthering that narrative. This band has been observing what is going on around them, and are presenting what they think on topics like superficiality. It’s what is desperately need in music right now.
Stadium-oriented rock with a blues influence is not new. That’s not to say Cold War Kids do not execute this style well. The opening to “Can We Hang On?” sounds strikingly similar to the huge single from their last album, “First,” and it’s telling that Cold War Kids are comfortable where they are. All the power to them if that is true. However, after the fifth song about how love can solve the issues of the world, one may begin to wish for a growth of the sound along with the message.
Sticking out, sonically, is “Wilshire Protest.” In an album of bluesy chants and crunchy drums, in comes what sounds like a ’90s Cake spoken word piece about the superficiality of LA — a big theme on this album. The direct references to staring at phones, occupying laborious time spent stuck in traffic, absolutely speak to an LA experience. Specific references make the argument lose a little bit of its nuance. Bluntness has its merits as well, however, and that’s why this album is a welcome addition to the narrative.
LA DIVINE earns its place in today’s music scene. That modern, soulful music feels good — especially “Love is Mystical” — and the lyrics are conscious of the protests, self-obsession and unrealistic expectations of relationships that characterize a lot of life in LA, and much of America as well. It isn’t done with much subtlety, and the Pepsi vibes start to creep in a little at the end there. But for someone looking for feel-good music as a pick me up? To reaffirm that love is the answer, and that nothing beats feeling at home with someone you love? It is definitely worth a listen.