Kisses, ‘Kids in L.A.’ – Album Review
Where Kisses started to go wrong in recording their sophomore release is hard to pinpoint, but the phrase "disappear here" probably played a major role. The duo of Jesse Kival and Zinzi Edmundson displayed plenty of talent on their 2010 debut, 'The Heart of the Nightlife,' but somewhere between then and now, the duo made decisions in both creative direction and overarching musical philosophy that suggest questionable taste. As a result, the ideas at the very core of 'Kids In L.A.' are not only problematic, but frustrating to hear.
Kival cites Latin freestyle as a chief influence, and the idea of two preppy light-skinned people trying to make an urban-contemporary re-imagining of that sound is ill-advised, to say the least. Sure, the racial and class implications associated with Kisses even attempting such a thing are probably worth considering, but the bigger problems may be musical in nature. Should Lisa Lisa be offended by this new spin on her freestyle creations, it'll be more due to the lack of imagination and progression.
With 'Kids In L.A.,' Kisses seeks to connect with listeners through very specific musical touchstones that were long ago weeded out of the pop and indie worlds. Any remaining allusions or references are subtle and slight, and there's nothing subtle about this album. That's true from Kival's Scandinavian-sounding delivery (it's hard to believe he's American) to pop structures that would be fine if there existed anything that spoke to the last 30 years of music history.
With its synthesized percussion, the sugary ear-worm 'The Hardest Point' seemingly borrowed its sonics from the 'Beverly Hills Cop' soundtrack, while 'Funny Heartbeat' plays like minimalist lounge music with awkward instrumental breaks. Often, it feels like the musicians are trying to stay in character, and when songs calls for them to create something new, they retreat, not wanting to betray the stale palette they've chosen.
And though there are plenty of hooks and no failures in execution, Kisses fail to emotionally involve the audience. The lyrics were inspired by author Bret Easton Ellis, but they read in a way that makes you question whether Kival understood what he was reading. On 'Air Conditioning,' in which the central character heads to a record store and buys "the latest high school favorites," Kival sounds like someone who can't remember how people actually speak. The album's first words -- which follow 30 seconds of unnecessarily melodramatic ambiance -- are, "Every day that I wake up in my room, sleeping by the sink (sea?) in my father's suit." Thus begins a dull narrative about the titular "kids in L.A." that doesn't really go anywhere and centers on the kinds of mundane events that shouldn't be relived through song lyrics. By saying that the unaffected, spoiled characters are an homage to Easton Ellis, Kival looks to give his songs some depth, but it's more of a turnoff than a conversation starter, especially since these songs could have soundtracked 'Less Than Zero.'
In a recent interview, Kival noted that he "wanted to find the excess and banality of youth and being a teenager,” adding, “I’m proud of the fact that, subtly in each track, there’s a protagonist with a concern that’s totally superfluous." How Kival thought that writing about boring, alien people would make for an enjoyable or interesting listen is difficult to grasp, and the result is a boring, alienating album. 'Less Than Zero' needs updating to play in 2013.