Review Summary: "Static" has Cults on the brink of discovering a lasting identity. With this maturation process, however, comes a few growing pains.
It’s tough for any band to follow up a successful debut album- but even tougher when that album’s success can be attributed primarily to a handful of songs. “Go Outside” seemed crafted to garner some heavy-rotation at your local Starbucks, or perhaps even land itself on an Apple tv-spot (sorry- Sleigh Bells beat you too it). A band like Cults, whose legacy has so far been defined by a handful of catchy, immediate indie rock/pop melodies, faces a troubling dilemma when devising their Sophomore record. Do they attempt to recreate the success of their debut by crafting some more solid bubble-gum pop hits? Or do they risk maturing their sound, perhaps sacrificing what made them notable in the first place- or perhaps even worse, exposing them as subpar musicians who got lucky riding the wave of some situational blogosphere hype?
The first half of Cults’ sophomore record “Static” somehow latches on to the ideal middle ground of those scenarios. The breezy, brief introductory track “I Know” provides a satisfactory segue into the unrelenting, candy coated indie-rock of “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” and its engrossing, bombastic hook. This is followed by two more solid tracks- “Always Forever” and “The High Road.” The conversational, vocal interplay between Oblivion and Follin recalls that of “The xx” and provides some thematic interaction with the listener. Both tracks also seem increasingly confident and dense than anything on the aloof, drifting nature of the first record. It’s far from weighty- but there’s enough lyrical and sonic exploration here to signify that Cults has indeed matured since their debut.
Yet, just as the album builds some momentum (and we’re not even at the interlude yet) the bands sophomore indecision begins to come into focus. Both “So Far” and “Keep Your Head Up” are so uninteresting and dull that there is little to comment on either sonically or lyrically. Indeed, they would fit better amongst a Fun. record (although the hooks may not be strong enough) than the up-tempo indie rock tracks which had come just moments before. Then comes “TV Dream,” a hazy interlude which introduces what could be an interesting direction for the band, but here seems out of place and further slows down the proceedings. The album moves back into its comfort zone at its conclusion, and the closing few tracks prove solid reminders of Cults’ ability to write solid songs. Yet it can’t be ignored that the muddling middle section of the record considerably garnishes and ruins the pace set by the impressive first half.
“Static” proves quite good when it manages to find a balance between maximalist indie pop and the band’s forward-thinking songwriting. The record seems to affirm that Cults deserve their place within the blogosphere hype and aspire to be something beyond what the hit singles say they should be. Cults nonetheless seem content with not taking many risks, and the result is an album that can become dull when it isn’t doing anything different. This isn’t a sophomore slump- but instead a record representative of a band that is occasionally struggling with growing pains and searching for a lasting sense of identity.