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Music Review: Cults – ‘Static’

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downloadCults came out with a blast on their 2011 self-titled debut. They became an indie “it band,” with a certain cache. Their sound drew from a variety of sources, including ’60s Motown, shoegaze, and dream pop. And thanks to their song “Go Outside”, used in a number of commercials (most recently heard in an ad for Nokia), the band was successful right out of the gate.

Cults’ reverb-drenched, retro sound expands on their second effort, Static. Band members Brian Oblivion and singer Madeline Follin worked again with co-producer Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend). They also brought in Ben Allen (Washed Out) to assist the team with creating Static’s sonic template.

The underlying drama that extends across the record is personal. After three years of constant touring, Oblivion and Follin, then a couple, broke up. Though no longer paramours, they remain partners and the situation now of working together while no longer “being” together drives the songs on Static.

Static is not, in the pure sense, a breakup album. The band is too smart, and experimental, to be cornered into that cliche. The songs are not syrupy odes to lives past, rather a look to the uncertainty of a future that many millennials view with side-gaze skepticism. Lyrically, songs like “Were Before”, also the strongest song on the record, allude to the ups and downs of relationships in the context of the breakup, “We both need it all anew/Just the way we were before”, while on “We’ve Got It” there is out-and-out pining (i.e. “There’s only you my dear”).

The rest of the record has some choice tracks. “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” starts off with a blast of fuzzy guitars, then swells into an anthemic chorus. The tempo and feel are a perfect accompaniment to the lyrics, which come off as an urgent plea for reconciliation, “Boy, just bring all your love back to me/I guess for now this is how it’ll be”. “Always Forever” rides in on a theremin-induced keyboard line, bringing back some of the Motown feel that was so prominent on the debut album. The theremin comes back in “TV Dream”, and though clocking in at just a minute, it’s a lush and evocative detour. “Keep Your Head Up” starts as a slice of shoegaze, before shifting into upbeat power-pop.

Cults move into new territory with Static, but are still firmly an indie-pop band. Though the occasional song gets overshadowed by over-production, Oblivion and Fillon maintain a grasp on keeping the songs melodic while expanding the band’s soundscape. The result is a worthy successor to their debut.

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