Largely centered around the talents of singer/songwriter Colin Dieden, San Francisco's the Mowgli's make a ceaselessly positive-minded brand of folk-infused pop that straddles the line between the earnest thump and strum of Mumford & Sons and the neon-colored, hippie dance-rock of fellow California act Grouplove. Except they do all this with a shot of sugary, self-help-laced Kool-Aid. On the group's third full-length album and second for Photo Finish/Island Records, 2015's Kids in Love, the seven-member, multi-voiced ensemble worked with producer Tony Hoffer, who'd previously helmed albums by such acts as the Kooks, Silversun Pickups, and Fitz & the Tantrums. Also featured on Kids in Love are songs the Mowgli's collaborated on with the production team Captain Cuts (who worked on their 2013 album Waiting for the Dawn), as well as producer/songwriter Matt Radosevich (Walk the Moon, One Direction). In the same way that the album title sounds like it was chosen from a brainstorm list of "stuff that makes you happy," narrowly beating out possibilities like purring kittens, sunny days, and weed, most of the songs on Kids in Love have a broadly populist appeal. They're sort of like a Brooklyn hipster version of Fleetwood Mac, except that their songs often sound inspired by a "Hang in There" baby animal calendar. Essentially, the Mowgli's write music that is catchy and pleasant enough to be almost unnoticeable if you heard it playing over speakers at the doctor's office, but relentlessly cheerful enough to be categorically offensive if you heard it while stuck in traffic. Cuts like "I'm Good," "Through the Dark," and "Shake Me Up" have radio-ready hooks, with lyrics that play less as intimate revelations and more as daily affirmations. On "I'm Good," Dieden sings, "We're all looking for something more/But what you're really looking for has been with you since you were born/You're good." Even when the Mowgli's attempt something more personal in tone, as in "Whatever Forever," the results end up sounding like those Randy Newman tunes about the drudgery of corporate musicianship, except without his charming sense of irony. Dieden sings, "I sit up on your bed and you're just biting at my neck/You're begging, 'Baby, please don't. Baby, don't you leave.'/But I gotta go and write these songs/So you don't have to get a job/And you just smile at me and drift back into sleep/Oh, it keeps getting better." Ultimately, with Kids in Love, the Mowgli's strike an almost inconceivable mix of woe-is-me obligation and entitled pop star laziness. It's not bad; it's just whatever.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar