Cold War Kids
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Overcoats - 8:15pm
Cold War Kids - 9:30pm
On their sixth album LA Divine, Cold War Kids pay tribute to Los Angeles and all its strange glory. The follow-up to 2014's Hold My Home -- featuring the gold-certified single "First" -- the band's latest is slightly tongue-in-cheek in its title. "In many ways LA is the least divine city, the most hedonistic and irreverent and disconnected from history," says Cold War Kids singer/guitarist/pianist Nathan Willett. Still, LA Divine embodies the Long Beach-bred band's endless fascination with their adopted hometown. "LA's so massive, I feel like I'm always finding something new in it," says bassist Matt Maust. "It's an incredibly weird place, and I'm happy to have made a record that totally honors that weirdness."
A feeling of infinite discovery instills much of LA Divine, the band's most expansive and ambitious effort so far. With Cold War Kids having recently marked the 10-year anniversary of their acclaimed debut Robbers & Cowards (a 2006 release that spawned their breakthrough single "Hang Me Up to Dry"), the album channels the kinetic energy of a newly revitalized band. "The excitement I have about this new album -- it feels so much like the way I felt back when our first record came out," notes Maust.
For Cold War Kids -- whose lineup also includes drummer Joe Plummer, multi-instrumentalist Matthew Schwartz, and guitarist David Quon -- that rejuvenation follows a creative rebirth of sorts. As Willett explains, the band took a more pop-informed and decidedly inventive approach to the making of LA Divine. "From the start of the band, our tastes have always been very backward-looking in terms of the tones and sounds and instrumentation we're working with," he says. "On this album we wanted to embrace something more modern, because in many ways the most creative sounds happening right now are coming from the world of pop and out of that influence we've ironically created what sounds like our most rock record yet "
With its sonic palette inspired by everything from Frank Ocean's Blonde to Florence & The Machine to Alabama Shakes, LA Divine merges that artful, hook-minded production with Cold War Kids' classic post-punk grit. And in his lyrics, Willett offers both raw vulnerability and layered complexity, bringing his heart-on-sleeve sensibilities to songs exploring long-lasting love. "So many songs are about new love or about breakups, but I wanted to go deeper than that for this record," he says. "We're older now and we have more life experience, and it felt right to have these songs about the beauty and the ugliness that comes with long-term relationships."
Produced by their repeat collaborator Lars Stalfors (Health, Local Natives), LA Divine opens with lead single "Love Is Mystical": a soulful, sweeping anthem about seeking transcendence and greater depth in love. "It's a very LA thing but also just a very American thing: we think attraction is all about the physical, and we don't think so much about the spiritual or mysterious element of it," says Willett. A more pensive meditation on enduring love, the slow-burning "Restless" brings sparse beats and ethereal textures to bracingly honest lyrics about "the kind of relationship where you're both always searching for something more," according to Willett. And on "So Tied Up," British singer/songwriter Bishop Briggs lends her formidable vocals to a stomping, gospel-infused number that shines a light on everyday struggle ("Love is a twisted game and no one ever wins") but undeniably burns with the promise of hope.
Befitting of an ode to Los Angeles, LA Divine also confronts the anxieties of aging and the toxic lure of reckless living. Urgent and unhinged, "Luck Down" gives a blunt but loving picture of self-destruction ("I won't lecture you on Lexapro...You'd rather medicate/With every pour"). But while "Can We Hang On?" admits that "we cannot stay forever young and out of our heads," the song's cascading guitar work and soaring harmonies make for subtly triumphant look at growing older and stumbling toward transformation.
Threaded throughout LA Divine are several brief interludes that uncover the better-hidden realities of life in Los Angeles. Hazy and distorted, "LA River" captures a dreamlike desperation. With its lo-fi beats and jagged poetry, "Wilshire Protest" contemplates LA's culture of isolation ("We are separated by/Steel and glass/In traffic trapped on the freeway/Everybody is a DJ"). And with the fleeting piano ballad "Cameras Always On," Cold War Kids deliver a powerfully tender portrait of heartache in just 36 seconds ("I wanna be famous in your eyes but the camera's always on").
Based in LA for more than a decade, Cold War Kids formed in 2004, soon after Willett and Maust met in college and bonded over their obsession with the Blur album 13. After making their way through their homegrown Southern California scene, the band released Robbers & Cowards to major critical praise and much adoration from the mid-2000s blogosphere. The notably darker Loyalty To Loyalty followed two years later, while 2011's Mine Is Yours introduced a more anthemic element to the Cold War Kids catalog. With 2013's Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, the band returned to their fierce live sound and offered up their hit single "Miracle Mile." In addition to yielding the smash hit "First" (a track that shot to No. 1 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart, where it spent six weeks in the top spot), Hold My Home debuted at No. 8 on Billboard's Top Alternative Albums chart and reached the top 20 of the Top Rock Albums chart.
On the heels of Hold My Home, Cold War Kids felt emboldened to bring a more deliberate, purposeful spirit to their music than ever before. "With our last record doing so well, there was a feeling of wanting to challenge ourselves and create something culture-shaping and important -- not just for our fans, but for anyone who loves music," says Willett. "We wanted to open ourselves up and be real and vulnerable about who we are and what we want to say, and at the same time push for a certain greatness."
Along with elevating Cold War Kids' songwriting on LA Divine, that ever-renewing sense of purpose continues to breathe new life into the band. "I've seen a lot of bands get burnt out on their own songs after playing them for years, but for me that's not the case," says Maust. "I've been playing 'Hospital Beds' for 13 years, and it means something different to me now than it did when we first started. I don't know where that spark comes from, but I don't think I can stir it up on my own. You have to keep constantly showing up -- and remember that this thing you created is really special, and you've got to do whatever you can to keep it alive."
Shaving their heads, grabbing guitars, and pulling no punches, Overcoats etched a ten-song bat-tle-cry on their second full-length album, The Fight [Loma Vista Recordings]. Their vision is not about picking up arms, but rather about picking oneself up. It’s the kind of record that might in-spire you to quit your job, run a marathon, divorce your husband, change your life in the way you always wanted to, but needed an extra push for. This is the push…
As New York-natives Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell wrapped up touring behind their critically ac-claimed 2017 debut YOUNG, it seemed as though the world was collapsing around them. There was no choice but to fight. “We lost friends to addiction and to gun violence, we were battling an extremely tough political climate, and feeling the weight of existential loneliness,” admits Hana, “We had to learn how to take care of ourselves and each other in a different way.” “There was a realization that we couldn’t wait for life to get easier,” adds JJ. “The idea you have to fight for who you are, what you want, and what you hope to see in the world became poignant for us. We real-ized the thing to do is not to wait for life to get easier, but to start fighting harder.”
So, they donned guitars in a shared New York city apartment and wrote the soundtrack to their fight. Hana and JJ personally assembled a team around themselves to help support their vision. Within a self-contained environment and under the watch of one London-based creative director, two LA-based producers, and, of course the two creators, the album came to life. They even self-produced a music video in which they shaved each other’s heads. Yes, that’s right. They shaved each other’s heads. They agree, “We decided it was time to take matters into our own hands and shock some people. We needed to become warriors to fight for the future we wish to see in the world.”
Inspired by everything from Young Marble Giants to The Violent Femmes to Iggy Pop, Over-coats rooted this next chapter in electric guitar and punk energy culled from nearly two years on the road. At the same time, they tempered the energy with a vulnerable vitality and irresistible catchiness. JJ explains, “The new music is a bit grittier and more rock-leaning, but there has always been and will always be a through-line of our voices singing in harmony.” “This album is going to break your heart, but also try to put it back together,” states Hana. “Allowing the guitar to dictate the sound, we tried to represent all of the stages of what this realization was. It’s not just depression, anger, and sadness; it’s the motivational stage too. It’s the pop song that helps to distract you from your sadness. It’s a call-to-arms to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and fight to stay alive.”
In early 2019, they committed this vision to tape alongside producer Justin Raisen [Angel Olson, Charli XCX, Santigold] and Yves Rothman [Courtney Love, Yves Tumor, Miya Folick]. “We’re always very D.I.Y.,” comments JJ. “We weren’t going to wait for some fancy producers and pop writers to pen us a record. We wrote it ourselves. We needed the right partners to record it. That’s Justin and his secret weapon, collaborator, Yves. They’re both as crazy as we are. They understood our vision: future-classic bangers.”
Finding a kindred creative spirit, Overcoats cranked out sticky sweet pop subversion tightened up to Swedish standards under a Seattle grunge haze – all initially born out garage band demos of guitar and voice, made in those apartments. Overcoats introduced this body of work with “The Fool.” Neon synths, disco beats, and a hummable bass bop glimmer between catchy confes-sions such as “Somedays, I’m a warrior. Somedays, I’m out of my mind.” It culminates on an immediately irresistible gang vocal chant upheld by glitchy distortion.
“We wrote it based on ‘The Fool’ tarot card,” says JJ. “It signifies taking a leap of faith and jump-ing into the unknown. Conceptually, it felt like the beginning of the project. We wiped the slate clean and decided to jump. That’s why the video includes the footage of us shaving our heads. We’re ‘The Fool’; we’re making our leap.” “It’s an empowering message,” continues Hana. “I don’t need to be defined by the opinions of others or go with the status quo; I can be myself.”
Rattling percussion and resounding keys underscore “Leave If You Wanna,” which builds to-wards a melancholically danceable bridge. JJ states, “It’s about stubbornness and ego that will get you in a lot of trouble in fights with your partner, family, or anyone. Perhaps, it’s the doubt that creeps in after you jump.”
“Keep The Faith” hinges on fuzzed-out nineties guitars and a hunkering drum roll as it transmits a stark valentine between the battle. “It’s a straight-up love song,” Hana goes on. “We decide to let our armor down, because you’ve got to keep the faith.”
“Fire & Fury” encapsulates many of the themes. JJ writes, “It’s a battle-cry against climate change and the myopic vision of those in power. It’s also an intimate look at a perpetual fight with your partner.” Hana responds, “Through the darkness, there is light. We have to have hope even as the world around us appears to crumble or go up in flames.” The track remains dark and brooding as well as hopeful and anthemic. An understatedly pop pre-chorus mounts in the background. Soon, a thunderous kick drops into a wall of guitars and synth bass as the duo scream, “There’s a fire, there’s a fury. Sky is falling, but we’ll get through it.”
At some point, all ten songs incorporate the word “Fight.” The title track sums up the vision as a whole. “It’s representative of what the story is,” explains Hana. “The word manifested itself in every lyric, but it goes back to our first call about the theme. Late one night, JJ called me and said, ‘I wrote something, I think it’s called ‘The Fight’. It applied to everything we felt. The more the shit hit the fan, the more it became so relevant.” When Hana heard the song she said, “‘The Fight,’ – that’s what this story is called.” And then, they both cried.
“ Each song on this record draws on the concept of fighting - whether it’s a fight with a significant other, a fight for rights and representation in politics, or a fight against inner demons,” says Hana.
Overcoats draw the same unfettered emotion from listeners. Since forming out of a Wesleyan dorm room in 2015, Hana and JJ quietly molded provocative pop into power. YOUNG stood out as “one of the Top 5 bestselling albums from a debut artist on an independent label in 2017,” bowed at #4 on the Alternative New Albums Chart, and landed at #12 on the Heatseekers Chart. Billboard touted YOUNG among “The Best Albums of 2017 – Critics Pick,” and NPR Music named it the “#4 Album of 2017” in addition to praise from New York Times, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and more. Additionally, they toured alongside Mitski, Tennis, Rhye, Matt Corby, The Japanese House, and Joseph.
By crafting and recording The Fight, they continue their journey, encouraging listeners to fight alongside them. “I want people to feel revved up,” Hana leaves off. “I want them to feel like things they thought were futile are possible. I want them to feel excited for the future. We have to keep trying. In trying, I want people to feel powerful in who they are.”
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