Release Date: Oct 15, 2013
Record label: Columbia Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop
Cults’ 2011 self-titled debut album was a triumph. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion’s use of echo, fuzz and well-chosen spoken-word samples transformed their fairly standard indie-pop songs into something a lot more unsettling. The duo’s follow-up, ‘Static’, sees them dial down the samples and lyrics about being abducted, to create something a great deal more human.
Cults' eponymous debut pondered modern love against the backdrop of the bustling pace of life. Two years on, the San Diego-born, New York-based band are no longer also a romantic pairing, which seems to have given their music a giddier, frantic edge. Their second album remains indebted to 60s girl groups and bubblegum pop, but joyous songs are delivered through gritted teeth.
As any musician will attest, breakups often provide plenty of songwriting fodder. Writing and performing songs with an ex, as Cults did on their second album, Static, is probably a special circle of hell, but when the results are this good, it's worth it. The album's imagery hints at Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion's breakup -- their figures are turned apart instead of toward each other, as on Cults' cover -- and yet their music is stronger than ever, balancing the elements they set forth on their debut with fewer gimmicks and more complexity.
Fortunately or unfortunately for Cults, the release of the duo’s much-anticipated second album is going to be clouded with the news that the couple behind the music—singer/lyricist Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion—split up last year. This means that you’re going to read a thousand articles forcing the two to rehash the circumstances of their decision to end their relationship yet keep the band together. The positive thing for Cults is that it will encourage people to take a deep listen to Static trying to piece out any hints of the titular noise that might have occurred between Follin and Oblivian.
The shroud of mystery that enveloped Cults leading up to its self-titled debut has all but vanished on the Brooklyn group’s sophomore effort. The fascinating mixture of strange field recordings and lo-fi pop has been replaced with high-sheen gloss, thanks to warm-but-hectic production work from Shane Stonebeck (Sleigh Bells) and Ben Allen (Merriweather Post Pavilion). Still, Brian Oblivion’s knack for delivering ’60s and ’70s guitar riffs and singer Madeline Follin’s slender voice shine through the dissonance at the most unexpected and welcome moments.
Cults continue to marry cool-kitsch '50s diner, Motown R&B, girl-group glitz, and other reverb-drenched elements with dense and modern electronic production, and it continues to be a solid combo. It's a peanut butter and chocolate kind of thing here: if things get too sweet, just dive into the layers of guitars and keyboard to take the edge off. .
Much has been made of the fact that the two members of Cults ceased to be romantically involved with each other prior to the recording Static. Indeed, it's quite possible that this album wouldn't exist if they hadn't split up. One imagines that the duo's personal struggles were probably not so much of a worry to their major label paymasters at Columbia, who no doubt more concerned with their ability to come up with another 'Go Outside' or 'Abducted'.
To quote the old song, breaking up is hard to do. Yet if the person you’re breaking up with is your bandmate, and you’re about to record your second album, it becomes a bit of a mammoth task. That was the situation facing Madeline Follin and Brian Obvilion, the New York duo known as Cults whose song Go Outside was, thanks to an unlikely soundtracking of a cider advert, pretty much inescapable for a time in 2011.
Cults members Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion may have ended their romantic relationship prior to recording their second album, Static, but, thankfully, their sound remains unified. While the album lacks a surefire gem like “Go Outside,” from the band's 2011 self-titled debut, its songs are more consistent in overall quality, featuring a slew of catchy hooks and elevated production values. Cults' music continues to draw inspiration from 1960s pop, but the duo has begun to move away from the overly sweet-sounding melodies of Cults and dip into a gloomier aesthetic.
The cover for the digital version of Cults' Static cleverly references their 2011 self-titled debut. It's a move that could be seen as a fitting metaphor for their musical development, as the NYC duo have managed to retain the indie-/girl-group/pop motif wholesale. For a young group to sit back and focus on sharpening their craft isn't necessarily a negative thing, especially when a band burst with as much charisma and panache as Cults.
Cults' name has always suited them well—the out-of-Bandcamp-nowhere ubiquity of the New York duo's "Go Outside", still a fixture in TV commercials, had all the hallmarks of a cult success. It also samples a cult leader, but Cults drew thematically on various ideas related to its nominal subject: romance as kidnapping, a band as a cult-like escape from the rest of the world's expectations. Except Cults' songs never sounded like they belonged to a niche audience.
Cults went from “where did they come from?” blog darlings in 2010 to major label artists in 2011. The end product of that incredible year was the band’s self-titled debut, a giddy mix of 60’s pop, girl group charm played with a modern edge that was addicting, unique and accessible. The band, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Brian Oblivion and singer/lyricists Madeline Follin, was also a couple and during Cults’ run of professional success Oblivion and Follin’s relationship was falling apart.
If you didn't know that Cults' two members, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, had split in the lead-up to making their second album, you likely wouldn't glean it from the first few listens. The mood is bright and dreamy, Follin's voice full of sugar, and the hooks through the roof. That the Manhattan indie pop band's songwriting transcends the couple's personal issues is testament to how strong it is.
Commitments are merely reflections of one’s existing circumstances. What currently motivates Brooklyn duo Cults is a mutual pledge that extends beyond their contractual compromise as musicians, that of former lovers who hang on artificial support to further what they had already established. Mixing a relationship with business is never a simple matter, especially if a breakup is still fresh in their minds.
Review Summary: Poor reception.That title is no joke. Opener “I Know” wafts out of the speakers like a religious experience coated in prickly fuzz and suffocating layers of reverb, a choir in an echo chamber. It’s a fair prelude to the album to come, choked as it is by its production and guided by Madeline Follin’s voice, trying its best to break through.
Break ups are hard enough at the best of times. Add to that the lack of personal space a band offers and one would imagine there’s an extra dimension of hurt and emotional distress – just ask Fleetwood Mac. But at least for the Mac there were other people in the band to vent to. With Cults it’s just two of them.Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin were a couple when the band began.
There’s a streak of malice in Madeline Follin’s pink-frosted vocals. On Static, the second album from Manhattan duo Cults, she teases it out more than ever. Since they started touring their self-titled debut on Columbia, Follin and her bandmate Brian Oblivion suffered the kind of strain that’s common to musicians who juggle a music project and a romantic relationship at the same time.
Since their forlorn self-titled 2011 debut, New York City duo Cults have wrestled with the binary nature of love at the heart of their style of ’60s girl-group pop. There’s no light without dark, there’s no crush without crushing disappointment. That dual-sided approach continues apace on “Static,” with Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion leaning into the skidding curve of a relationship running off the road, even if one half doesn’t realize it yet.
Cults Static (Columbia) The Bandcamp-to-Sony success of its eponymous 2011 debut, driven by chiming pop single "Go Outside," prematurely pigeonholed Cults by launching them to the mainstream. Sophomore disc Static determines to prevent that fate, if not intentionally eschew it. Between releases, Brooklyn duo Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion split as a couple, so emotional baggage underlies the title's shoegaze weight.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK There was a tectonic shift in the world of Cults after the release of their adored eponymous debut. Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion, the only steady members in New York retro-pop group, ended their four-year relationship. Despite this dramatic alteration to the band’s dynamic, they agreed to keep making music together.