Running away to neo-retro pop bliss
Cults aren't the first group to rise from anonymity to buzz-band status, and they certainly won't be the last. More remarkable than how Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion crashed the major-label party, however, is the distinctive neo-retro pop style they've brought along with them. Borne partly out of a youth spent listening to an especially eclectic oldies station and a nine-hour drive bonding as a couple over an iPod stacked with Lesley Gore, Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake, Cults' aesthetic is one of the most refreshing developments in pop music since the aggro-bubblegum of Brooklyn's own Sleigh Bells a year ago. Put simply: Nothing else sounds quite like this.
Self-produced with only minor polish from engineer Shane Stoneback — who worked with Sleigh Bells, and with Vampire Weekend, too — these 11 songs make good on the substantial promise of last year's sole single, "Go Outside." Follin's lilting, girlish voice soars over blithely chiming glockenspiel, trebly guitar, shimmery synth, funk bass and computer-sculpted beats, a slight patina of lo-fi haze still intact throughout. Equally integral are the sampled quotes, which include disturbingly resonant words from cult leaders and psycho killers.
Stylized samples aside, though, Cults can always fall back on songs that effortlessly capture a rich palette of coming-of-age feelings. The previously released material still sparkles: "Go Outside" embodies millennial ambivalence about offline existence; "Oh My God" longs for a life less humdrum and "Most Wanted" explores why we crave what hurts us. The new songs match the quality of their predecessors, from Stockholm syndrome romance "Abducted" to "Walk at Night," which is "Killing Moon"-bleak, on through to "Bumper," a lovers' duet that's something like the "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" by way of "Irreplaceable" by way of "Young Folks."
"So fuck you," Follin enthuses cheerfully, rejecting self-improvement advice amid a squall of shoegaze guitar noise on "Never Heal Myself." Running away from other people's expectations leads Cults someplace wonderfully their own.