NYC duo Cults started out the grassroots way of the modern age: as a DIY Internet sensation. After wooing the music world with their bouncy hit “Go Outside,” the group continued to garner a great deal of attention with their adorable bubblegum beats and dreamy pop sound. In the two years since releasing their astounding self-titled debut album, however, something changed.
Members Madeline Follin and Brain Oblivion fell apart romantically. While the breakup did not dissolve the band, it added themes of disillusionment, confusion, and loneliness to their music. Their sound traveled from gleeful to moody. Their brand of candied noise pop was muted with a darker, ’60s noir vibe. The once jubilant duo hung up their rose-tinted glasses, cashing them in for a darker, more disenchanted view of the world.
On their sophomore work, Static, Cults’ disenchantment with love and life shines through. While the music is still buoyant and charismatic, it has a more reserved quality, trading spunk for angst. They have lost the blind, youthful optimism of their earlier efforts and are seemingly a bit less enamored with the world around them.
The album title itself is apropos. Cults’ crystalline clear outlook has been muffled by the static of the real world. Yet instead of resulting in a garbled mess, the group still creates wistful, often beautiful music. While the themes and textures of their sound have radically transformed, Cults maintains their propensity for saccharine pop, but this time with a more mature vibe.
One of their most upbeat tracks on the album, “I Can Hardly Make You Mine,” harkens back to their older work, but its strong, polished rhythm reveals that Cults is straying away from their lighthearted sound of the past. “We both know what it’s like to be lonely,” Follin sings, her sugarcoated vocals tinged with sorrow. The embittered lyrics set this lighter song apart from those on the duo’s debut.
In general, the album is dedicated to a myriad of wistful songs about disintegrating romance, from the languid breakup tune “Were Before” to the tortured, psychedelic-inspired “So Far.” On the latter, Follin laments, “Every day away our distance only grows / further and further, so close to letting go.” On the former, she yells, “You can’t fix that” — probably one of the top sentiments of the album in its entirety.
On occasion, it is easy to feel removed and uncomfortable while listening to Static. You are peering into the minds of two artists reeling from a bad breakup, and sometimes it is all too transparent. Cults are heartbroken. Their devastation is tangible.
Static’s impressive closer, “No Hope,” embodies the album’s destitute outlook. We get the scorned love aspect — “You kept your distance when I needed you the most” — and we get the sadness — “The day’s much colder and there’s not much left to say.” The song ends with “no hope for the wicked or the good.” Yet through the bleakness, the song is majestic. The dreamy aura and compelling vocals mixed with the thought-provoking lyrics make it an inspiring piece of dream pop.
While Static does not measure up to its self-titled predecessor, it still embodies many qualities of good pop work. Though Cults has lost a bit of the charm that stemmed from the duo’s unbridled youthful energy, their music has gained an appreciated maturity. They experiment with genres, exposing their sound to different retro and psychedelic elements. They have transformed their style into something more than just a hectic haze of Candy Land pop. Cults is growing up.
Tickets are still available for Cults’ performance at El Rey Theatre on November 12th.
Cults Tour Dates:
10-15 Brooklyn, NY – The Syndicate “Conflict of Interest” Event
10-22 Boston, MA – The Sinclair
10-23 Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of Living Arts
10-26-27 Las Vegas, NV – Life Is Beautiful Festival
10-29 Washington, DC – Black Cat
10-30 Durham, NC – Motorco Music Hall
10-31 Charlotte, NC – Visulite Theatre
11-01 Atlanta, GA – The Loft
11-02 New Orleans, LA – Voodoo Experience Music Festival
11-04 Austin, TX – Emo’s
11-05 Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s
11-06 Dallas, TX – Tree’s
11-08 Albuquerque, NM – Launchpad
11-09 Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
11-10 San Diego, CA – The Irenic
11-12 Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre
11-13 San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
11-15 Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
11-16 Vancouver, British Columbia – Rio Theatre
11-17 Seattle, WA – Neumo’s
11-20 Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
11-22 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
11-23 Chicago, IL – Metro
11-24 Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop
11-25 Toronto, Ontario – Lee’s Palace
11-26 New York, NY – Webster Hall
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