Some people have it all. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, former San Francisco residents, are 21 year olds with a debut album as buzzy as the inside of a bee hive, great music ability, and long luscious locks to die for. The dating duo formed their bedroom project, Cults, by chance. A few days after posting their first stab at musical collaboration ("Go Outside"), Pitchfork, the maker-and-breaker of musical hopes and dreams, lauded their single and the record labels came a knockin'. This easy stroll to success might be considered annoying, if it wasn't entirely deserved.
Adopting a nostalgic sugary pop sensibility reminiscent of the Ronettes or Lesley "it's-my-party-and-I'll-cry-if-I-want-to" Gore, Cults's self titled debut is packed with sweet, nibble-sized pop nuggets that feature tinkling xylophones and Madeline's childlike vocals. But, unlike their twee 1960s antecedents, Cults laces the punch with the bitter poison of history, slipping in ominous samples from cult leaders, such as the notorious Jim Jones, who opens one song by declaring: "To me, death is not a fearful thing. It's living that's treacherous."
Considering this interest in cult followings and their enigmatic leaders, it's no surprise that their music has a sing-along quality, each song perfectly tailored for an eyes-closed, sway-inducing, arm-raising collective performance. A perfect example of this is the opening track, "Abducted," which sounds precious until you listen a bit closer. The lyrics liken falling in love to being kidnapped, your heart tossed carelessly in the back of a white van and transported to a dark, hidden place where the breaking will take place. If you think that's twisted, check out the video below:
"Go Outside," the song that started it all, rescues you from your captor and sets you free with its call to put an end to wallowing in bed and embrace the outdoors. "You really want to hole up.You really want to stay inside and sleep the light away. I think it's good to go outside and make it light all day," Madeline advises with conviction, and it's hard to disagree. An unofficial video for this song starring Dave Franco and Emma Roberts has been floating around the web for quite some time, but the official clip just recently surfaced and it's genius, a manipulated news report on Jonestown with the band members integrated into the footage in the roles of followers singing their way through epiphanies and toward deliverance. It's required viewing:
The rest of the album proceeds within the framework established by these first two songs: catchy pop tied up with the consequences of giving yourself completely to someone else, whether that be a lover, a cult leader, or both. Standouts include "You Know What I Mean," a song that thrives on drama, shifting between periods of soft pleading and in-your-face declaration, and "Never Heal Myself," which finds Madeline trying to change herself for a man until she comes to a self-empowering revelation: "I can never heal myself enough for you, I can never be myself so f*** you." You tell him, sister.
In a little over 30 minutes, Cults succeeds in initiating you into their movement. The brain washing has taken care of your worries and all that remains is devotion and the need to belt it out with abandon.
Cults will be recruiting more followers when they roll through town on July 25, 2011 at Bottom of the Hill. For tickets and information, visit bottomofthehill.com