Cults – Cults (2011)


Starting off as a bedroom project, this New York duo has made quite an impression ever since being discovered on Bandcamp, spawning their hit “Go Outside“. Having released their self titled debut, it is very fair to say that Cults are capable of making more than just the one good song.

Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion, both originally from California, capture the fun and bright atmosphere in resemblance with surf pop, with the ripples of soaring, jangling melodies carried throughout the album. It is clear they have been influenced by the music of ‘60s girl groups like the Shangri-Las (easily spotted in “Bumper” ), as the warm and sweet melodies echo along with the unpolished production – which in this case, works effortlessly in making the album sound as dreamy as it does.  At the same time, however alluring the music may be in all its smiling and doe-eyed impressions, there is something quite the opposite in what Follin sings as she captures the frustration of growing up and experiences with the opposite sex, sometimes displaying her angst with loud outbreaks of vocals: “Cause I can’t sleep alone at night/ yeah, you know what I mean”.

The first three tracks are probably the highlights of the album, breathing life into it from the very start. “Abducted” begins with the faded out strumming of guitar and Follin comparing the feeling of falling in love to that of being abducted. Although the whole album is more or less about her situations with boys – telling of how much she wants him, then telling him “fuck you” –it can’t be said that it is done in an obvious or off putting way. There is still an appeal to listeners who have no interest in the subject matter, with the singing done in a careless manner, as if Follin really doesn’t care if we’re listening to her words – we can just enjoy hearing the sound of her voice. A nice subtle addition to tracks like “Abducted” and “Bumper” is the male viewpoint, sung by Obvlivion. Despite the Follin’s slightly saddening lyrical content on other tracks, this lonely idea that we form of her is nicely contrasted against Oblivon’s own little inputs: “If she’s this crazy now/ There’s no telling what’s in store”, showing us a more amusing side.

One little personality trait of the album is the sampling of quotes from cult leaders. Jim Jones is heard at the start of “Go Outside”: “To me death is not a fearful thing; it’s living that’s treacherous”. Although the samples have been woven into the music without really affecting the quality of the songs, they don’t really do much for the album either. I can assume that they are supposed to add to the mystique and sinister feeling beneath the happy sounds, but most of the time it’s hard to hear them clearly, or to even significantly notice or care for them. There is little new about the album – everything has been created with borrowed elements from Indie pop and 60s girl groups, but there is indeed an overall freshness and air of nostalgia. However, it may seem like the high and sugary sound is too much in some places, which is true of “Walk At Night” and “Most Wanted“, and that is probably why the album is one that is cited as a good summer record – it only really has one type of mood. Even so, Cults should be credited for choosing not to exploit this for too long, with the album only lasting the bearable amount of time. The selected three minute tracks keep it short and easily listenable.

For an album that provides uplift, amusement and some form of sinister and sadness, Cults does pretty well to integrate them all into a small package. It isn’t likely that you’d tire of it quickly if you should happen to enjoy hearing its light and summery sound.

Best Tracks: Abducted, Go Outside, You Know What I Mean, Oh My God

77/100

Fun. – Aim and Ignite (2009)


No other band today other than Fun. fits the title as the modern-day Queen. Their quirky pop style of music is charming and infectious. Why it took so long for the media to recognize them is baffling. Fun. is indeed an enjoyable band. The catchiness of their music is irresistible, especially from their debut album Aim and Ignite.

The production, which can only be described as ‘bubbly’, is consistent throughout the course of the album. Nate Ruess’s clean, non-overbearing vocals blend perfectly with the music. The atmosphere is light and pleasing, which means that it’s ideal for both focused listening and background music without being distracting. The lyrics themselves are often adorable, but there are some select strange bits, such as “Light a roman candle with me/ Just a roman candle, you can wear your sandals/ And I’ll pour you just one cup of tea.” While there are a few other nonsensical lyrics such as this one, they hardly detract from the overall listening experience and it’s one of the band’s noticeable characteristics.

It is quite obvious that the band is largely influenced by Queen and other 60s bands such as the Beach Boys. The record opens with the standout track “Be Calm”, a song perfect as the introduction for the album. Skittish violins, flutes, and bells give way to triumphant brass and electric guitar, with Nate’s vocals going from soft and hurried to bold and inviting. The intention of the band is to have the listener be eager to hear more after the opening track, and this is just the case. “All the Pretty Girls” is a strings-laced, pop delight where Nate proclaims his troubles with a girl. Reggae-flecked “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used to Be)” is optimistic to say the least, with a steady drumline and prominent, bright-sounding guitar. By far the catchiest track on the album is ‘Walking the Dog’, where its odd consistent clapping pattern is one of its most prominent characteristics of the song. There’s no doubt you’ll have the chorus stuck in your head for a while (“Na-na-nanana-na-na/I’ll never let you go-o!”).

Overall, this is what a great pop record should sound like. If your inner music snob turns its nose up at any mention of the word ‘pop’, don’t fret. There’s something for everyone in this album. The album maintains its bright style, but it experiments as well. Its clever use of orchestral instruments paired with modern-day ones add to the band’s appeal. It tends to stray away from the formulaic structure of most pop music and instead takes the listener on its own strange musical path. Sound fun? Indeed, it is.

85/100