How do you become a viral sensation without having much of an internet presence? Ask Cults. Last year, Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin started putting music up on Bandcamp.com to amuse their friends. A few months later their summery single, ‘Go Outside’ was an internet sensation. But those songs were their sole internet existence; even Pitchfork couldn’t get a scoop. Their air of mystery worked and they garnered enough buzz to get booked at this year’s Coachella, NXNE and Lollapalooza. Forced into the limelight, we now know that Cults are two early-twenties NYU film students, they’re a couple and they now have a full length, self titled LP.
If I had to describe what a rainbow sounds like, it would be this album. Somehow Cults has managed to capture pure happiness and innocence without resorting to bubblegum crap. Everything has a general twinkling quality to it; drum and keys driven melodies with plenty of reverberant psych vocals. Complete magic explodes out of the first track, ‘Abducted’, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Another joyous moment comes in the chorus crescendo in ‘You Know What I Mean’. Even if you don’t get goosebumps from these instances like I do, I can guarantee that you’ll catch yourself snapping or swaying along at some point before the album finishes.
Cults’ reinvention of sing-along 60s pop is like Lesley Gore meets the kids from the Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack. But don’t expect fluffy lyrics about milkshakes and puppy love. Instead, be prepared to take a hormone-laced trip back through high school, thanks to lyrics full of angst, heartbreak and rebellion.
The main thematic vein that runs through this album has to do with confusion; confusion of feelings, identity and what the future holds. Songs like ‘Never Saw the Point’ flip-flop between strength and weakness, wanting and not wanting. The same is true in ‘Never Heal Myself’ where the pleading narrative, “Please don't leave me lonely, tell me all the ways to make myself right in your eyes” somehow ends with the sort of strength I wish I had as a teenager: “But I can never be myself, so fuck you.”
High school wouldn’t be complete without a few bad relationships, so of course ‘Bumper’ chronicles one with a back-and-forth between ill-fated lovers, “I threw his shit on the floor”, “She rushed me out the door”. Similarly, ‘Abducted’ and ‘Go Outside’ touch on dissatisfaction and heartache. ‘Bad Things’, ‘Walk at Night’ and ‘Oh My God’ describe the typical angsty side of teenage life with plenty of references to loneliness, running away and escaping restrictions.
Even though the subject matter is clearly youthful, the sound is pure retro. Your parents might even confuse this album for one from their collection…until Madeline drops the F-bomb. Unlike many bands who strive for such a specific nostalgic sound, Cults hasn’t been pigeonholed into repeating the same formula over and over. At least not on this album; we’ll have to see what their sophomore release brings.
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