The Heart Of The Nightlife, the 2010 debut from Los Angeles-based duo Kisses, had its fair share of enjoyable moments but nothing that called for repeat listens. Their follow-up has been some time in the making – a year and a half, to be precise, was spent making Kids In LA with the assistance of Saint Etienne‘s Pete Wiggs and Tim Larcombe (Lana Del Ray, Girls Aloud). The result is an album of electro-pop tunes that are, once again, more satisfactory than spectacular.
Kids In LA picks up where The Heart Of The Nightlife left off, without too much diversion from the songwriting formula that broke them into public consciousness three years ago. In fact, the sole difference is that some of the textures sound a lot darker. The evidence of this icier, spacious and occasionally downbeat aesthetic can be found on the punchy Having Friends Over and the slow groove of Bruins; both have their fair share of lush synth melodies but they’re not exactly weightless either.
On the whole though, it’s the reluctance to stray from their comfort zone that is the major flaw. Even if the results would have been more hit-and-miss, the LP would have been a more interesting listen were their ambitions a little larger. Some of it is so insubstantial that it might as well just fade away into the background. Their saving grace is their ability to write strong hooks; Huddle is not a song with many dimensions to it but it’s made memorable by its strong chorus.
Despite the lack of fresh ideas, it’s undeniable that the duo know which buttons to press and which sounds will strike a chord: Funny Heartbeat sparkles and glistens (the influence of Wiggs looms large) whilst Air Conditioning oozes sleekness and expansiveness. In the case of the latter, as well as an immediate and penetrating bass line, the air of nostalgia is heavy in its lyrics (“If I’m alone, without you/How do I find my way to/The record store, to hear a tape/Of the latest high school favourites”) and the combination of Jesse Kivel’s vocals, which are often low in pitch, matched with waves of synths and programmed drums is pure ’80s indie disco.
It’s not a coincidence that this is being released right before the summer (if there is one for the UK in 2013), for it sounds tailor made for that season. Kids In LA lays its cards on the table and, whilst at times too polished for its own good, it boasts enough songs to justify a few spins at least. What’s needed is some exploration to ensure that they don’t run the risk of repeating themselves.