Who knows whether Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion had any idea how fitting the name ‘Cults’ would be to describe their followers when they chose it. Their three-song EP last year was massive on the internet, in particular the sunny, upbeat Go Outside. So much acclaim, so early could only lead to Cults becoming massively hyped. In fact, they’re so hyped that a particular free, London-based magazine reviewed their support set for Yuck, rather than the headliners themselves (Coincidentally, where I first saw and heard them). So, as always with bands this built up, the question is of whether to believe the hype.
It’s probably best to begin with why they’ve got such a reception. Cults’ music combines several recent trends of indie music – boy/ girl harmonies, cutesy and simple lyrics, and songs drenched in reverb. The comparisons to Phil Spector’s work are all over the place, but unlike those tunes – written to be enduring pop songs – Cults gives the feeling of a big label executive trying to sell those songs to tweens and hipsters at the same time. Throughout, it feels like they’re trying to cater to the trends mentioned, while also dumbing it down enough to please pre-pubescent fans. For God’s sake, Follin’s voice is a dead ringer for Lizzie Maguire, and who wants to hear that in a band?
The choices by the group on sound have also dragged this record down. As the album opens with Abducted, you hear the subdued, faraway echo of the track. I expected this to become something more as the verse proper kicked in; leaping suddenly into a well produced pop song. But every track here is drenched in reverb. The sad fact is that any interesting use of instruments or melodies on here is buried under its fuzzy shell of xylophone and piano, which add to the naïve (and incredibly clichéd in most cases)lyrics about crying and growing up. Rave On, the group’s attempt at a closing crescendo, is simply underwhelming. Even the vocal samples used throughout are near-indecipherable, and hold little relevance to the themes of Cults (other than in name). The only aspect that the band excels in is their interplay on Oblivion’s rare vocal appearances, such as Bumper. This isn’t dissimilar to the other tracks (and there’s a good number of these which are too similar to stand out whatsoever), but there’s something about them playing off each other makes the tale of a lying partner stick in the mind. While alone, Follin’s voice is annoying; the two together balance each other and make the songs a lot more bearable.
Cults are possibly the peak of ‘Tweeverb’ (Twee lyrics and loads of echo, music lovers), a genre which falls somewhere between ‘revival’ and ‘rip-off’ of Spector’s work, with the emphasis on the latter in this case. They show some potential in a couple of tracks, but the others are so lacking in personality that Cults are in danger of only having successful and depthless pop songs – then again, that’s probably all a Tweeverb band really wants.