Sugar-coated melancholy runs unabashed through the LA duo’s debut.
Laura Snapes 2010-11-08
If chillwave is the sound of some non-existent beach paradise on a global isle where languor and self-indulgence are the lingua franca, then Kisses’ classy debut might be the five-star hotel you frequent to escape the sun-bleached riff raff. It’s undeniable that the LA duo – couple Jesse Kivel and Zinzi Edmundson – make music that plays into the romanticised false histories that have made 2010 simultaneously so beguiling and frustrating. The Heart of the Nightlife’s aesthetic backdrop is Miami, circa 1982 – it’s a soundtrack to the idea of the time, the emptiness of those cavernous white Hollywood Hills mansions, rather than mimicking the sounds of the period itself. Pastel slacks and gaudy cocktails by the pool aren’t yet trashy; Hall & Oates are topping the charts.
Thankfully though, The Heart of the Nightlife isn’t pure pastiche – though it occasionally borders on it. Jesse’s voice sounds uncannily like that of Swedish crooner Jens Lekman, but lacking the accented curiosity and wryness that make Jens such an attractive proposition. The self-titled opening track contains pat coffee mug mantras like "Keep your heart strong and love long, and give kisses when you can," and "I love you, does this change a thing?" – and they don’t let up throughout the record. Most of the track titles sound like chapters from a West Coast Mills & Boon special. But somehow, that doesn’t spoil what for the most part is a delightful set of songs that sound rather like The Blue Nile minus the grit. The lonely People Can Do the Most Amazing Things contains the lines, "And it’s hard to know what you want / And it’s hard to know what you need," delivered in a tone that tells you that Jesse probably hasn’t put a great deal of effort into finding out what he wants or needs. But his flatness of voice contains a naïve dejection that sits well with the warm shades of Arthur Russell-influenced disco.
It’s in that sense that Kisses have something in common with The Drums. Both bands trade in conceited guilelessness, whether that sentiment is one of fun – as The Drums’ is – or the pure sugar-coated melancholy that runs unabashed through the heart of this album. Kisses understand that, on occasion, everyone enjoys the wallowing "woe is me" loneliness of being single and making eyes across a light-up dancefloor. Theirs is a charmed world that you’ll find hard to check out of.