BY JACK BRADY
The band Cults self-titled debut can’t be easily summarized or accurately described in words. The only way to truly experience Cults is listening to the album in its entirety. Yet, such is its hypnotizing brilliance that even the hopeless task of conveying some shred of it in writing is impossible to resist.
Listening to Cults for the first time is comparable to drinking the lethal flavor-aid served to the victims of Jonestown. (Jim Jones himself is spine-chillingly sampled throughout the album; “Go Outside” begins with his address to his followers to begin the mass suicide.) At first it seems wonderfully sweet and sappy, a sugary escapist rush of shallow, (albeit catchy) hipster pop. Yet after those initial moments, the true nature of Cults’ genius is revealed. As you to listen to the lyrics and begin to comprehend what the airy and jubilant melodies are masking, your perspective is completely and utterly warped. Slowly, despondence and desperation overwhelm the listener. Cults drags you down the rabbit hole into its own world, a thrilling and agonizing paradox of unstoppable emotion and sound that combines infinite beauty and infinite pain in ways beyond imagination.
Every track combines this incredible polarity and uses it to irresistible effect. Most tracks begin with a vintage pop sample seemingly stolen from the sound system of a 60’s high school prom- serving as the backing track to a macabre analect from a plethora of infamous cult leaders. It’s certainly haunting, yet disarming in its seeming romanticism and nostalgia. The vocals are decadently melodic with psychedelic effects dragging the listener into a trance of contentment. Yet this masterfully crafted mask of pleasant illusion hides a brutally sardonic sense of irony. Fatalism and disillusionment are fused with the boundless exuberance and energy of youth, creating a maelstrom of emotion and feeling that resonates across generations.
No aspect of mortal suffering is left unmentioned by Cults. Addiction, self-loathing, disillusionment, detachment and helplessness are dispersed in equal measure. “Most Wanted” opens with gentle piano chords and a junior-high style glockenspiel riff to create an atmosphere dripping with innocence and purity. When the vocals begin, however, a world of suffering, desperation, and addiction replace it. Why, might one ask? The melody doesn’t change. The tonality doesn’t change. The vocals are as rich as ever. Yet when one considers the lyrics, the song is revealed as a nihilistic anthem to the anguish of addiction, the joyous overtones rendering it utterly chilling.
The final track, “Rave On”, is a desperately needed catharsis from the hidden lamentations of the album, yet ultimately the listener is consumed by a sense of hopeless ambiguity and suspicion, not knowing what to expect or feel from the work as a whole. As a listener I felt doubt and confusion. I couldn’t find resolution or even a modicum of understanding from Cults. Was this just black humor? Was the point to indoctrinate the listener just to cast them away like a former cult member? Were they trying to simply create music? Ultimately we are left with too many rationalizations and possibilities. Seeing how Cults are dedicated to preserving their own mystique, we may never know what to believe. The band remains an entity of unstoppable charisma and frightening mystery, one whose hypnotic brilliance leaves all listeners held in its sway. It’s impossible to tell if Cults matches its theme-or the reverse. Either way, it’s one hell of an experience. So drink up.