“Double trouble” reigns truer in indie music than anywhere else.
With “Static,” Cults’ second album, the group accomplished something many duos haven’t: releasing a steady stream of music without ensuing drama between band members. These rifts eventually tore The White Stripes apart, and The Black Keys barely avoided the inevitable break-up Cults has missed.
Indie’s great twosomes have kept the genre from meshing entirely with pop. For every Vampire Weekend and Death Cab for Cutie, with their sleek, piano-based tunes, are garage rock acts like MGMT and Foxygen. Although Cults is more polished than those contemporaries, its music still contains edgy guitar that dodges around organic drum kicks.
Cults sounds like an R&B group from the ‘60s if it collaborated with Pete Townshend on “Static.” Take “High Road,” a dreamy ballad track. The lackadaisical instrumental creates an endless sidewalk where you see nothing but the road ahead. Still, with all the song’s abstractness and keyboard shrills, it includes catchiness that other acts on the edge of psychedelic sounds haven’t achieved.
Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion’s collaboration works in ways other duos cannot match.
Bands with two members should click like a five-piece group won’t. But, as mentioned, this closeness has done more to rip groups apart than it has to create personal and tight music. However, “Were Before,” the album’s fifth track, features both Follin and Oblivion singing a ballad of desperation with an almost hip-hop-like beat. Oblivion’s belting ushers the first verse in, and, by the chorus, Follin packs an elongated punch with her melancholy words.
The tandem’s cohesive collaboration doesn’t stop there. “So Far” incites death and despair on a disco dance floor. “We’ve Got It” has the right balance of pop, blues and rock—something even seasoned veterans like The Black Keys have failed to accomplish. The lyrics in these songs may not be of note by themselves, but their contexts in each song create memorable sounds.
Then there’s “Always Forever,” where Cults follows every pop-rock stereotype imaginable.
“Always Forever” and its whiny lyrics, depthless atmospheric noises and predictable structure make Justin Timberlake’s latest effort sound groundbreaking. (And that’s a large feat.) When failing to mesh in the creative ways mentioned earlier, Follin and Oblivion’s music creates an awkward predicament: It’s contrasting parts are both equally depressing and cutesy, like a meme-worthy kitten resorting to drug use.
Bands with multiple dimensions and sides are commendable. In particular, MGMT has stayed exciting with the plethora of emotions that ooze through its music. Unfortunately, Cults hasn’t honed these great feelings, and the album’s worst tracks, “Always Forever,” “Shine a Light” and “So Far,” prove this. Is Follin seeking redemption or a lifetime prison sentence for murder with her lyrics in “So Far”? I’m not sure and cannot truly appreciate the music contemplating questions like this.
Still, Cults’ one problem only comes to light a handful of times over the course of “Static,” and the project is solid. If history is any indication, Cults has an uphill battle to achieve a long, productive career. As most of “Static” proves, much can be accomplished with killer guitar riffs and slow, catchy choruses.
Final Rating: Three out of Five Suns