The craft—please, let’s not call it an art—of music crit has taken a nosedive. A few clicks avail us of a cursory listen to any music, any artist. Since we no longer invest any real time in digging through brick and mortar stores or mail-ordering rare B-sides from obscure European PO boxes, it’s become simple—almost de rigueur—to flit from song to song, website to website. It’s the modern equivalent of channel surfing. If you don’t like the first 30 seconds of a song or—even worse—you think you know just where it’s heading from hearing a brief intro, you may as well stick to posting reviews at bastions of critical expertise, like maybe Amazon.
Sure, there’s an affiliation with the girl group sound, but it’s the same influence that informed the Phil Spectors and Shadow Mortons: post-’50s pop wherein only a few shredded vestiges of doo-wop lingered. Cults could just as easily garner comparison to ABBA, The Jesus and Mary Chain and, sadly, a bit of Fleetwood Mac. I realize it’s hip to love Fleetwood Mac nowadays, but please remember that—to quote John Huston in Polanski's 1974 neo-noir classic Chinatown—“Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”
What I’m getting at with all these odd comparisons is that we listeners read our own influences into what we hear. If it’s a happy comparison, so much the better, and the hell with the critics (your narrator included).
It may sound like I’m working up to slagging on Cults. Far from it. From Manhattan—not Brooklyn, as they're quick to point out—Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion may have gathered their influences purposefully, but I imagine it was more of a musical/cultural osmosis; for example, Widowspeak's Molly Hamilton said she hadn't heard Mazzy Star until every music critic hauled out that (quite accurate) comparison.
With two releases under their belt, Cults’ music has an interesting range even existing, as it does, within a somewhat narrow confine. There’s a galloping pop sound that heads towards Raveonettes territory on “Abducted.” “Bad Things” sounds like stripped-down ABBA. An up-to-date Little Peggy March reclines on a psychoanalyst’s couch in “You Know What I Mean,” and an echo of pre-hit Shirelles resounds on “Go Outside.” On “High Road,” there’s even a bit of smooth funk, like Gamble and Huff mellowed into an opiated pre-Madonna on the dance floor. What I’m getting at with all these odd comparisons is that we listeners read our own influences into what we hear. If it’s a happy comparison, so much the better, and the hell with the critics (your narrator included).
Much of Cults’ work is simultaneously bass- and treble-heavy. I’m curious if the band can reproduce this heavily processed sound faithfully onstage, but since the music industry has been steadily heading away from actual musical instruments—toward sample-driven, touch-of-a-button production—I bet there will be few, if any, sonic reproduction issues.
Atlantan dreampop/shoegaze fivesome Mood Rings—whose “Year of Dreams” evokes a girl group-meets-lonely hearts sound more than any Cults composition does—opens. Mood Rings also goes straight for the gut with driving static reverb on tracks like “Washer,” bookended by breathy, languid shoegaze. Also on the bill, New York surf/psych rock act SACCO goes for a fuller sound; it's sort of ambient, dark psych with a heavy backbeat.