The cult of press-blasted personality promised us a rock n roll swindle like a Symbionese Liberation Army heiress kidnapped for ransom. What we got are two NYU film school dropouts Madelin Follin and Brian Oblivion who developed a love for their weekend music project and each other as well as ample blog attention centered around their bandcamp single “Go Outside.” Fast forward to interest expressed by Lily Allen and her people at In the Name Of/Columbia, sprinkle a bit of industry leverage, some big time production with vague sounding interludes for indie cred, and you have yourself the Cults self-titled disc.
Cults indulge in that lazy-hazy LA brand of west coast LA pop that turns any season into a summer on Venice Beach. With much made and said of their Columbia signing, Madeline and Brian's inspirations draw from the Mexican Summer catalogm as they balanced their well-produced sound with enough studio manufactured dissonance to keep in step with their contemporaries. The balance of the album's audio fidelity bounces between the studio tone and vintage distortion-lite design which gives rise to “post-lo-fi” contrivances and sub-genre labeling debates.
The lead off single “Abducted” pulls you into the suspicious windowless van where a purposefully lo-fi intro gives way to full fidelity recording amidst background found stock sound footage. The body-snatching metaphor is revealed from the get-go with “I knew right then I had been abducted, I knew right then that he would be taking my heart” and ending the verse with the predictable opposite “I knew right then that he would be breaking my heart.” One of the few vocal cameos by Brian Oblivions allows him to take on the role of the abductor during Follin's back and forth portrayal of their heart-capturing romantic antics. It's one of the album's best moments.
The production is the most exciting thing on the record, with Brian Oblivion weaving some great textured samples, effects and classic r n' r guitar. The lyrics carry the same dimensions of profundity as their song titles would have you believe (“Bad Things,” “Oh My God,” “Never Saw the Point,” “You Know What I Mean”), but Madeline Follin's passionate delivery sells the songs with a xylophone charm and a convincing dose of sincerety.
Being that Madeline's vocals shine front and center, Brian's interjections (like on “Abducted”, or his random vocals toward the end of “Most Wanted”) inch toward the Hazlewood/Sinatra dynamic that would have made for a different vibe. Instead, most of the songs revolve around Madeline's light hearted thoughts and benign affections.
Contrivances and skepticism aside, Cults have made an album of endearing pop that is enjoyable without requiring you to think too much.