I remember hearing Cults for the first time, like it was just yesterday. Well, I don't have to reach back too far, considering it was only a few months ago that their five-track Bandcamp stream was spread through our office like an enchanting case of the chicken pox. After the darling duo, of two former NYU students, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, were signed to Lily Allen's Columbia imprint, In the Name Of, our anticipating itch for their self-titled, debut LP inflamed exponentially. It's always pleasing to witness any of our NYU neighbors succeed, especially when our interns proclaim that they've shared classrooms with band members. And when the sonic output is as captivating and innovative as Cults' Motown-synth tunes, we can't abstain from becoming maniacal addicts.
It's become almost unavoidable for contemporary bands to borrow rhythms of the past. Too often are these praised sounds either meager impersonations or butchered excuses of influence. Cults manage to avoid falling victim to these trends, and deliver a satisfying meld of Motown tempo, modern synth, and rock guitars. The duo claims that their reincarnation of 60s soul comes from their contrasting musical backgrounds. Madeline grew up listening to punk, whereas Brian was a fan of psychedelic surf rock. Somehow, this formula resulted in a partnered interest in the classic pop genre.
Madeline's vocals are far from her favored, punky howls. She embodies the harmony of an entire Motown girl group (all four Shirelles in one). But her lovable hums don't always induce finger-snapping tempos. She can let loose. Her saccharin whispers are replaced with tumultuous vigor, that sneaks up, out of nowhere. This is shown best in "You Know What I Mean". Opening with the vibe of a last dance ballad, the surprise heat of its chorus induces an urge to break down and shake.
While Madeline's vocals certainly play a focal role in the distinctive sound, Brian's guitar chords and additional instrumentation are its unsung heroes. Prevalent in nearly all tracks, is a xylophone that flutters parallel to Madeline. Brian's surfy-psych chords assist in the modern makeover of the subgenre of soul. The album's closing track, "Rave On", is its most guitar-centric song. The gripping strings are responsible for its fluctuating mood.
It's difficult not to favor tracks, like "Go Outside", that had lured us into Cults fandamonium. But songs, like "Bumper", that feature duets between the couple, are the albums well-deserved highlights. This male-female twosome aren't a typical stage couple. Rather than alluring with cliched relationship personas, they seduce their audience with impassioned music.