Under Review: Cults – Cults

In today’s constantly-connected world of information overload, some bands are doing pretty well for themselves by intentionally flying below the radar. New York duo Cults did just that for a bit, mysteriously releasing three tracks online toward the middle of last year. Though the band offered little in the way of fanfare, the songs quickly brought this anonymous group to the attention of the indie world. As with fellow newcomers Foster The People, a signature song was quickly identified from Cults’ minimal output. “Go Outside,” a deceptively dark but undeniably catchy number, mixed Madeline Follin’s playful vocals with a bouncy bassline and chiming glockenspiel. Oh, and a sample of Jim Jones’ final speech to his Jonestown followers. The group’s fixation on the treachery of living is less about embracing the infinite than about celebrating every moment like it could be their last. This apocalyptic jubilance carries through Cults, the band’s debut full length.

Cults begins with “Abducted,” Follin’s tale of seizure into some strange and enticing world. For the thirty seconds of the song, Follin’s vocals are barely audible in the teasingly lo-fi mix. After the first verse, though, the song bursts to life and the album doesn’t let up from that point on. The album gets “Go Outside” out of the way rather quickly before easing into the slow-burning “You Know What I Mean.” Contrasting “Abducted,” “You Know What I Mean” sounds like the theme to a prom scene, its synthesized finger snaps providing an echoing constant to the dynamic verses and chorus. Most of the songs on Cults run barely over three minutes, but each of the tunes boasts its own particular way of standing out. The shambling post-break up reflection “Never Heal Myself” and the jaunty duet “Bumper” (which features some of guitarist Brian Oblivion’s best vocal work) sound like lost tapes from one of Phil Spector’s lost girl groups. All the songs sound so instantly familiar, it’s a little unnerving.

While a few tracks on Cults might sound like the group has already begun to repeat themselves, there are subtle changes to their sound with which Follin and Oblivion are constantly toying. “Most Wanted,” another one of the original three tracks, features a similarly slinky bassline as “Bumper,” but with a delicate piano counterpoint underneath. “Go Outside” has a close cousin in “Oh My God,” which also features a glockenspiel and samples, but it serves to reinforce rather than rehash. For such a young band, Cults have a strong and clear view of the kind of music they want to make. It’s plain to see what Follin and Oblivion were doing with all the time they didn’t fritter away online: making one of the year’s best records.

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~ by E. on June 6, 2011.

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