The name “cults” can come off as disturbing for some, especially when it’s the name of an obscure Manhattan music duo. But regardless of its connotations, Cults, the band, has become increasingly popular since their gleefully retro 2011 debut and its starpower single “Go Outside.” I guess, in this case, the term “cults” makes sense, since the band has somewhat gained a “cult” following of indie rock music fans. The sound of the two young minds behind Cults, guitarist Brian Oblivion and singer Madeline Follin, combines 60s doo-wop with upbeat modern rock and catchy alternative pop. Though it may seem like Cults’ blend of genres is too anachronistic for our EDM-obsessed generation, it’s surprisingly compatible with Oblivion’s grungy guitar riffs, Follin’s gentle vocals, and evocative lyrics. Transitioning from being a four-year couple to just bandmates, Oblivion and Follin have struggled to regain the affectionate and charismatic foundation that made their self-titled debut a great success. Ultimately, the two twentysomethings translated their angsty feelings as a creative input into Static, a much moodier, rougher, but ultimately satisfying record.
It’s easy to spot out songs (“I Can Hardly Make You Make,” “Always Forever,” “No Hope”) that convey the melancholic feelings that separated the two Cults members’ romantically. But in terms of musical chemistry, it’s a perfect match. In Static’s album highlight, “I Can Hardly Make You Mine,” Follin sings passionately about her heartbreak, her voice bouncing off pounding resonant drums and raucous guitar chords. Follin and Oblivion’s rocky relationship is especially heard in the grungy “High Road.” The bleak tone and stuttering piano chords accentuate the song’s dreary lyrics, such as “Instead I took the low road/Figured out it’s something that we both lack.” It definitely shows the huge leap from their once enchanting love ballads off their first record to Static’s depressing break-up songs, which can sometimes be aggravating to listen to. However, the album’s theme of heartbreak is somewhat enlightening, since Follin’s in-depth lyrics elicit a lot of interesting notions about modern relationships and the struggles of maintaining a healthy one.
Regardless, there are some major flaws in Static, which include the repetitive rhythms of certain songs. For example, “High Road,” the overwrought “Were Before,” and the glossy but middling “So Far” share very similar melodies, as well as lyrics. It’s not exactly tedious, but it does tend to limit the amount of creativity that was shown on their first album. Cults contained a plethora of similar-sounding material, but what made each song different was that they each vividly told a different story: “Abducted” depicts literal heartbreak, as Follin described it as her heart being cut open; the light-hearted jingle “Never Saw the Point” portrayed Follin as strong and triumphant after a breakup; and the soothing slow jam “Rave On” is a Follin-Oblivion duet that condemns death and isolation and celebrates freedom and individuality.
Though the highly inventive Cults can’t be outmatched by Static’s fluctuating sounds, Static still has a lot of decent material. In fact, if you take out all the sad, depressing songs, you’ll get some pretty impressive tracks, such as the optimistic “Keep Your Head Up,” the haunting, minute-long “TV Dream,” and the sparkly “Shine a Light.” The only incredibly sad song I would praise off Static would be the melodramatic album closer, “No Hope.” Using both uplifting and sullen instrumental elements, “No Hope” is a surprisingly heartwarming song, whether you’re a regular music lover, going through a rough breakup, or just need something to get you through the day.
Though Static is not as impressive nor as cheery as its predecessor, it manages to bring more depth into the duo’s signature indie rock sound. Its instrumentals are bleak but profound, its lyrics repetitive but sometimes inspirational, and its subject matter depressing but timeless. Follin and Oblivion’s struggle to manage a healthy, post-breakup friendship and a rock-steady music group are apparent on Static, but their artistic insight is what makes Static both so bewildering and so hypnotic.
Suggested Tracks: “I Can Hardly Make You Mine,” “Keep Your Head Up,” “Shine a Light,” “No Hope”