A decade ago I interned for a music magazine and while I have been gone for about 10 years—though still contributing to the one you’re currently reading—press releases still find their way into my inbox from far reaches of the universe. Obscure record labels, “hot” new rappers and countless remixes all clamor into a sonic battle royale hoping to find their way into ubiquity. I occasionally read the press releases and look at the accompanying promotional photos and it’s a clear indicator of the fact that honorably promoting music is incredibly difficult. Marketing rock music—namely the bric-a-brac breed—is especially difficult. If I was directing a photo shoot with New York duo Cults, I have no idea what kinds of nudging I would give to do their brilliant simplicity justice.
The duo have, for several albums, created ethereal dreamscapes created by Madeline Follin’s crooning over Brian Oblivion’s instrumentation. Their latest, Offering, opens with the the title-track ballad where Follin follows Oblivion’s dreamy melodies with delicate efficiency; “Offering” is followed by “I Took Your Picture,” which perks up the album’s tempo with a dazzling multilayered vocal track. Later, “Good Religion” is a gorgeous collision of vocals, cinematic scoring and airy pop, each subsequent listen revealing more of Cults’ complex compositions. Offering ends with the banger, “Gilded Lily” which hears Follin roar over Oblivion’s epic collision of organ, piano and percussion.
Offering, similar to their cover art, gives small, reclusive glimpses of the two central members of the band, which keeps the group’s reserved dynamism in tact. With enigmatic vocal offerings such as “Natural State” and the almost holiday-esque “Nothing is Written,” the duo reveal minimal amounts of tangible mundane ideas (sans music, it would be incredibly difficult to to become a Cults mega-fan), keeping their presences almost ephemeral and ghostlike. In fact, knowing that there are two people in this group, or even knowing that Cults is a group, is really irrelevant, as it is the fused amalgam of Oblivion and Follin that makes Offering so intriguing.
While I don’t think Cults should market themselves by staring at the camera nonchalantly or even antagonistically, I cannot really offer an alternative. Follin and Oblivion continue to create sophisticated indie pop and I’m not quite sure how they should arrange their facial expressions to convey such an output. Perhaps, being that the music is so dreamlike, there is no emotion or lack thereof that can accurately depict the haunting pop on Offering. I understand this is not a satisfying answer but the film school dropout narrative just doesn’t give Cults the accessible credit they deserve.