Music Review: Static/Cults (Released on 10.15.13 by Columbia)

By Wade Powell

Static can be comforting for some people. It sends them into a warm, fuzzy state of Zen that makes it easy to fall asleep. But for some, static is frustrating. It’s a homogenous abstraction, determined to get in the way of what is meant to be seen or heard.

Cults’ sophomore album feels like a little bit of both.

The NYC band rose to fame in 2011 after releasing the lovable and addictive “Go Outside,” which led to their signing with In the Name Of, Lily Allen’s Columbia imprint. Cults’ debut album, simply titled Cults, was a solid extension of that song, indie rock obsessed with 1960’s pop and Motown.

If it is wasn’t obvious from their debut that Cults want to be “wall of sound” revivalists, they are making it clear on their latest release Static, treading heavily where bands like Camera Obscura, The Concretes and Saturday Looks Good To Me have already dug deep ditches. The reverb is richly layered, at times to a fault, amplifying the shrill side of lead singer Madeline Follin’s voice and generally muddying up the scene in other spots.

Cults’ songwriting on Static also mimics Motown classics at times but to a lesser extent as before. They bring a dazed, almost psychedelic element to the table on “High Road” and “So Far.” Modern indie rock tactics are thrown in elsewhere. The clean guitar-driven chorus of “High Road” is reminiscent of The XX, especially considering how Follin and counterpart Brian Oblivious sing the lyrics together. All of the new stylistic choices work, and the buffet of genres smells delicious.

But like actual TV or radio static, Cults’ Static is fuzzy and all blurred together. Still, the songs are well-written, and the production – with the exception of reverb overkill – is spectacular, often more interesting than Follin and (more particularly) Oblivion, whose vocals have not improved since Cults’ debut and don’t do much for Static.

Static is missing the genuine fun and youthfulness of their debut. It’s not surprising considering Follin and Oblivion actually ended their romantic relationship between the two albums. Making a more grown-up album was a natural choice, and Cults are not being wronged for it. It could have been a great choice, but instead of using the emotion and angst to bring the music together, they seem to act as the static that gets in the way.

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