Pop Addict: Cults

On Thursdays, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Cults: s/tCults: s/t (Columbia, 6/7/11)

Cults: “Abducted”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Cults_Abducted.mp3|titles=Cults: “Abducted”]

From the Peoples Temple’s mass suicide in Jonestown in the 1970s, to the violent end to David Koresh’s born-again hedonists in Waco, Texas, cults have been a dark chapter in America’s history. Though the organizations themselves claim to offer hope and promise to its members, something much more terrible has been covered by promises of self- fulfillment and spiritual rejuvenation. True to its name, then, Brooklyn-based duo Cults has a bit of this duality as well—offering music that’s blissful, summery, and full of promise yet tinged with an underlying darkness.

The band, though, has no problem balancing these contrasts. In fact, throughout the duo’s debut album, Cults’ gorgeously crafted summer-pop songs are layered with recordings of Jim Jones’ infamous “death speech.”  The second track, “Go Outside,” wallows in its own instruments, buzzing to life while Jones’ words state, “To me, death is not a fearful thing; it’s living that is treacherous.”  It then explodes into Madeline Follin’s hook-driven vocals, Brian Oblivion’s hazy guitar tooling, and an inescapably catchy xylophone — evoking a sound somewhere between Best Coast, The Kills, The Raveonettes, and The Beach Boys.

And though that juxtaposition helps define Cults, the band moves forward, track after track, offering catchy pop rock — the kind that makes you want to throw some belongings in the car and hit the road until you reach the coastline. And, in that sense, that’s the scary part of Cults: the songs are infectious — enough to brainwash you into liking it immediately.

The music is sparked with hooks and harmonies, but the lyrics often hint at something more ominous. On the standout opener, “Abducted,” Follin compares falling in love to being kidnapped; on “Bad Things,” she sings that she is going to “run away and never come back” (at which point Jones’ haunting voice comes back in for more psychotic ramblings). On these tracks, reality becomes skewed, and truth becomes interspersed with the subversive and stranded qualities of a cult mentality.

However, the band is not honoring the likes of Jones or cult-ish thinking so much as exposing its emptiness and the sadistic traits that go along with joining such groups. Every track oozes with the disturbing yet pert bubbly-ness — blurring the lines between good judgment and drinking the Kool-Aid, and showing how preposterous it all is.

Perhaps the best stance comes on “Bumper,” a 1960s doo-wop groove with a driving bass line and dual vocal. Toward the song’s ending, Follin and Oblivion sing, “Maybe I should start a life with someone new / And give up all my hopes for…” But they never finish the thought. There is an extended gap of silence before rushing back into the pop of two mindless, impressionable protagonists. Unlike its name suggests, however, there is nothing but hope for this fresh-faced Brooklyn duo.

1 thought on “Pop Addict: Cults”

  1. Cults have done something special. Not just in their music, but their success. They have opened up a door for all the “little guys” out there still jamming until their fingers bleed. There’s no million dollar hooks, scandalous music videos, auto-tuned background vocals, or any of that radio-required hooplah… just some kids playing music because they LOVE to do it. That’s enough for me to listen to any band. Anyway, great debut album… I think if you are a musician… or appreciate the art of music… you’ll dig this record.

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