Monday, June 6, 2011
REVIEW: Cults, Cults
When the buzz about a relatively new band increases to the level that most of the blogs and e-zines are breathlessly urging you to pay attention, many of us have a tendency to resist. But in the case of the new self-titled album from Cults, I urge you to embrace it. Cults is a swaggering and sexy set of sugar-coated songs of (slightly twitchy) romance, broken hearts and low level unease. For me, quite simply, it is eleven nuggets of joy.
Listen to "You Know What I Mean" while you keep reading.
New York based Cults was formed by transplanted Californians Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, who previously studied film. The band now has grown to five members. When I first listened to the songs on this album, I felt the same excitement I felt when I first heard The Raveonettes' "Attack of the Ghost Riders". Like The Raveonettes, Cults take a elements of classic pop music and update them for current audiences. And both groups rely on a guitar driven sound with percussion and bass up in the mix, coupled with female vocals. However, Cults don't aim for the Phil Spector/wall of sound effect with multiple reverb connections, employed so well by the Danish duo. Cults favor surfy, even rootsy, guitar figures with more modern rhythmic patterns for the bass and drum and a few vocal samples.
Given Cults' founders formerly studied film, perhaps it is no coincidence that I (and other reviewers as well) find the songs on the album have a cinematic quality. But despite the bouncing melodies and sugary vocals, this isn't John Hughes soundtrack material; it is Tim Burton/David Lynch stuff. And perhaps there is no better example that the dark little backwards storytelling in the video for album opener, "Abducted" (sorry, you may need to endure an advertisement). The song is a love song, telling the male and female sides of a relationship in terms of a psychological abduction. And it isn't a happy story.
The songs on Cults manage to be simultaneously exuberant and dark, with catchy melodies and vocals that draw you into the drama embodied by the lyrics. For example, a superficial listen to "Go Outside" subsequent evokes a sunshine and happiness created by the melody and girl-group vocals. But the song begins with a clip of Jim Jones (of Jonestown cult suicide infamy) and the lyrics reveal the singer's dissatisfaction with a companion that won't go outside, but rather chooses to "stay inside and sleep the light away". The song closes with "I think that you should wake up/I think I want to live my life and you're just in the way".
In my opinion there isn't a bad track on this album. Don't overlook the second track from the end, "Romper"; it is a stomping track that leaves a good aftertaste. Should you be bothered that it is over in fewer than 35 minutes? Of course not--do as I do and hit the replay button. You'll have over an hour of joy.
The vampy "Most Wanted"