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. Cults
was a love record, conflating its worship of ‘60s power-pop and Brill Building harmonies with the fanatical devotion shown to the megalomaniacs it cleverly sampled throughout. Upon a cursory listen, Static
feels like more of the same, but Follin’s lyrics, and a mood that smothers more than it celebrates, reveal an album set up to be the flip side of Cults’
breezy charm and doe-eyed gazes. It’s a break-up record stewing in its own lo-fi juices.
Both Follin and multi-instrumentalist Brian Oblivion have stated that Cults was more important to them than their disintegrating relationship, so their decision to maintain their professional partnership, while parting ways romantically, made for a fascinating interview (over at Pitchfork
), and grants a depth to the lyrics here that Cults
, for the most part, simply did not have. The twinkly keys and bubbly bass lines mask the inevitability that pervade the lyrics in “So Far,” but the distorted roar of guitar and insidious melody put the lie to Follin’s desperate sentiment, “reach out a hand to me / it’s not over.” “Keep Your Head Up” is ostensibly a call to arms, the kind of “it will get better” tripe that anyone who’s ever gone through a break-up has heard (and ignored). But the traditional sparkle fades to recrimination on the chorus, slowly spoken to emphasize every word: “don’t expect me to share my love with you.” Follin has always been the ideal vocalist for a band like Cults – her voice is wry and spritely, its innocence less a sheen and more an essential part of her DNA, but it gives the empowerment at the heart of Static
a sort of bittersweet sincerity. A trippy doo-wop hook like “Always Forever” would be a hard sell from another band, but the small, sharp bite in Follin’s voice as she reminisces about something lost that she is futilely wishing back turns it into one of Static’s
finest approximations of heartbreak.
That same atmosphere that emphasizes the tearing Follin feels in “Always Forever” and muddles the sweetness in “Shine A Light,” however, is one of diminishing returns. Where Cults
took its tumblr-approved hazy aesthetic and relished in the easy melodies that Oblivion and Follin seemed to have a knack for, Static
is a listen that asphyxiates. The best parts of the record are when Oblivion’s melancholy production and overwhelming array of effects complement Follin’s venom, but more often than not the result is a gloomy, obscured one, difficult to parse and harder to slog through on repeat. For much of Static
, the combination is a zero-sum game. The choruses are weaker than what we are used to from a band with the pop pedigree of Cults, and the mid-tempo tedium that permeates much of the record makes it more difficult to catch the spots where Follin’s lyrics truly shine. A track like “Always Forever” and “We’ve Got It” stand out precisely because they demand to be heard – the foot-stomping chorus on the latter is positively life-affirming, one of the few times where the music’s vigor matches the lyrics’ defiance. It’s a credit to Cults that Static
is such an enticing initial listen; no one now is pulling the retro Spector treatment with as much stylistic confidence as they are. Over time, though, Static
becomes more of the same, that doomed relationship that your friend just won’t get over. It’s a necessary therapy, but that doesn’t mean it’s an altogether enjoyable one.