Release Date: Sep 4, 2012
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Folk
It's a lofty and unusual compliment to say that a songwriter reminds you more of John Milton and William Blake than any of his music-making contemporaries. But Sean Ragon, the creative wellspring behind Cult of Youth, functions with such a sense of literacy that it's not absurd to call him something of a poet. His latest album, Love Will Prevail, emerges as the neo-folk followup to Cult of Youth's post-industrial self-titled LP.
Sean Ragon doesn't like to make things easy for himself. The former Love as Laughter bassist, now a Brooklyn record store owner, operates within a subgenre-- post-punk folk-- that, if not treated carefully, can conjure thoughts of open-mic aspirants murdering Pogues songs at campus pubs or, worse, get you labeled a fascist. And even if you disregard its Fatherland intimations, Ragon's adopted Cult of Youth moniker still holds him to an exceptionally high standard of passion and messianic fervor, with the expectation that there's a congregation of impressionable souls out there waiting to heed his call.
Love Will Prevail is the third official album by Brooklyn-based neo-folk/indie industrial troupe Cult of Youth, the brainchild of songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sean Ragon. Following some long out of print home recordings, Ragon expanded the band from a solo entity into a full-on band, establishing a sound over the course of several albums that was firmly rooted in neo-folk icons like Death in June and Current 93, but fused with undercurrents of punk energy and even rousing Irish rock elements à la the Pogues. The ten songs here expand on Cult of Youth's traditionally neo-folk sound with the inclusion of a broader range of instrumentation than the more minimal gothy arrangements of earlier works.
The tide has changed in New York in recent years, with skinny-tied post-Strokes cool giving way to something weirder, darker and – whisper it – gothier. Sean Ragon’s Cult Of Youth were among the first to usher in this new era. They’re a doomy folk-rock outfit who eschew perky Mumfords jangle for something gritty and romantic, caught between elaborate orchestration and churning punk energy.
Sean Ragon is the smoldering voice of Cult of Youth. The band’s second record, Love Will Prevail, could be seen as hearkening back to all kinds of post-punk records, to the sweet, low defiance of Joy Division but combined with the jangling punk-folk of Billy Bragg. It could be that kind of throwback, if the music didn’t seem so fresh, if the seething energy didn’t seem so immediate.
Cult of Youth frontman Sean Ragon created Love Will Prevail from scratch, and not in the sense that every album of original music is, in a way, made from scratch. Down to the studio in which he recorded the album — built with his own hands in the back of a Brooklyn clothing store – Ragon literally crafted his product from the ground up. He also plays almost every instrument on here, except for drums and violin.
The beginning of neofolk is not any one classic album, not any ossified "sound," but a moment of turning or transmutation, the sudden shift through which Crisis became Death In June. In 1980, Doug Pearce and Tony Wakeford forsook their fervent anti-fascism to explore the forbidden zone between far Right and far Left, exchanging realist imagery for mythical narratives and esoteric symbols. Musically, Death In June turned from minimalist punk rock to a barely coherent fusion of gothic post-punk, decadent psych-folk, Morricone-esque arrangements, and industrial beats.
The second album from this Brooklyn collective comes from an undeniably dark place. Gothic and industrial overtones commingle with eclectic neo-folk exploding with strategic punk rage. The register of Sean Ragon's brogue resides somewhere in the vicinity of Nick Cave and Michael Gira, yet underneath the stomping, rolling rhythmic accompaniment, his breathless intensity can't help but exude lightness.