Cults, a duo comprising Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, seemingly came out of nowhere last year with the effervescent “Go Outside.” The song’s irresistibility single-handedly put a band without any official releases to call their own on the fast track to blog buzzdom. Since that song’s surge, several subsequent releases have pointed to the idea that this band clearly has the capability to churn out satisfying songs, marrying the Shangri-La’s and ’60s pop with synth flourishes. As a result, their debut full-length has become one of the more anticipated June releases. So the question ultimately is whether the group can sustain themselves for an entire album. As it turns out, Cults presents itself as a winner right out of the gate due to the simple fact that it’s a veritable one-stop shop for the group’s initial successes along with a handful of endearing new tracks.
The record starts off with a trio of songs that are near perfect. Kicking things off with “Abducted,” Oblivion and Follin trade off on vocals in a classic 60’s pop song updated with shimmering synths. “Go Outside” follows with its instantly recognizable glockenspiel intro and reverb drenched vocals; it still registers as one of the best songs to come out of this young decade. The narrator’s need to get out that night while the one they’re with can’t bear to is easy to connect with. In fact, it’s not hard as a listener to fit yourself into either alternative given your mood. As illustrated here, Cults is primarily centered around boredom, heartbreak and internal struggles relating to young adulthood (although, truth be told, these trials could easily be applied to any stage of life from adolescence on). Often, the lyrics don’t quite mean as much as the feeling behind them. In the third track “You Know What I Mean”, Follin cries out “I am afraid of the light/ Yeah, you know what I mean.” This refrain is somewhat familiar but the conviction in her voice makes the song incredibly contagious.
It would be fairly difficult to maintain the high quality of the first three songs for the rest of the album, but the band does do a great job of coming close and even hitting similarly high marks later on. “Oh My God” mines similar melodic territory to “Go Outside”, but boosted by a speedy synth arpeggio, it still manages to work well as its own infectious piece. Closer “Rave On” has a knockout chorus with energy unmatched by anything that precedes it. Even more melodically predictable songs like “Most Wanted” and “Never Saw the Point” still have enough pop smarts to elevate them above mere rewrites of old classics. Cults also wisely stay away from the common trap of becoming cloying or ironic. Occasionally sunny sounding melodies do creep into the music, but these are easily offset by strange samples of rather dark icons peppered throughout the record. According to the band, the purpose of including these voices is to capture “ugly people saying beautiful things.” True, a sample of Charles Manson making an expression is an odd touch; however these samples mixed in such a way that they never really act as distraction. In fact, some take careful listening to even make out at all.
As groups like the Pipettes and the Vivian Girls have proven in recent years, retrofitting ’60s pop can provide the foundation for a rewarding initial offering, but for various reasons can be quite difficult to follow up without diminishing returns. We’ll see how Cults handles this challenge; they seem like they pull from enough additional sources to possibly buck that trend. For now, we can just enjoy this; an album representing the perfect summation of Cults’ remarkable first year.
Video: Cults – “Abducted”