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 Everett True

10 REVIEWS OF THE NEW CULTS ALBUM – 1: in real time

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by Everett True

This is my review of the debut album from Cults, Cults, released on Lily Allen’s Columbia imprint, In The Name Of.

Somewhere around the third track, ‘You Know What I Mean’, this album really kicks in.

Somewhere around the fourth track, the first single ‘Most Wanted’, this album becomes indispensable. I swoon, and then I swoon some more, gulping down water backwards.

Somewhere around the fifth track, ‘Walk At Night’, I’m starting to think of taking back my cargo of Lesley Gore B-sides to Bristol and trading them in for just one glimpse at Cults. This feeling doesn’t last too long, that would be absurd – just for the three minutes or so this track lasts. It lasts long enough for it to disquiet me thoroughly. Kids are screaming in the next room. Five kids. All screaming. The sound punctures this upbeat love-in of a record and reminds me why I vowed never to listen to vinyl again. I can cheat. This entire Cults album is, so far, like listening to vinyl. It’s like owning a transistor radio playing all your favourite femme-pop moments from 2005 and 1965 in 2011.

By the time the sixth track, ‘Never Heal Myself’, comes on, I am praying to the ghost of Ellie Greenwich that this album becomes the biggest album in the world this Brisbane winter, that it sweeps everything beard-shaped and hollow-formed before it in an unstoppable tide of girl group melodies and lush, slippery beats, and reverb motherfucking harmonies, and while it’s doing that, it takes Best Coast and The Vaccines and all the other dull pretenders with it.

By the time the seventh track, ‘Oh My God’, heals everything I’m thinking … haven’t we met somewhere before? I mean, really. Bangs alive, I’d even give up my secret plan with Kate Nash to form a summer pop group that only covers early Lush outtakes to hear another song like this. I’ve caved in. I don’t know what words I’m typing, and I don’t care. There’s one screaming surly kid in the bedroom now, and everyone else is playing fair. If I was still DJ-ing in Istanbul, I would do a Tricky (who once showed up in Seattle with one record under his arm – a copy of the first Specials album) and show up with this. This alone. What else do you need?

If I lived at Pitchfork and wanted to reduce emotion to base numbers … but I don’t and I don’t. I’m hoping that perhaps I’ll fall quickly out of love with this so I can move on. I’m hoping but I’m doubting it.

The ninth track, ‘Bad Things’, is Monster Women good. I swear! It’s Shangri-Las ’65 good. I swear! It’s even as good as Neverever or Camera Obscura or that album I have a secret regard for but would never admit to in public (Panda Bear)! Damn it all. Wouldn’t it be so great if something so obviously corporate-backed and hipster-fed and maybe tinged with a bit of post-“Beach-Boys-on-a-skipping-CD” Animal Collective coitus turned out to be amazing after all? I think there’s some talking over the lush, lush harmonics. I hope there is. I don’t want to be imagining heaven on top of heaven. Funny how the two phrases ‘Phil Spector’ and ‘lo-fi aesthetic’ frequently get mentioned in the same sentence. It’s because people have no idea whatsoever what lo-fi means these days.

Fact one: the Cults debut album is not lo-fi in any shape, nor does it aspire to be.

Fact two: the Cults debut album is marvelous but … oh … imagine how much more marvelous it’d be with Phil Spector producing in his prime (the fifth Ramones album). I’m beginning to love the shamelessness of this Shane Stoneback producer guy though. He taps into all the obvious conduits, and – damn, isn’t that what major league producers should be doing? There’s plenty enough love left over to handle that.

The 10th track, ‘Bumper’, is ‘Give Him A Great Big Kiss’ [The Shangri-Las] sang as a male/female duet, the relevant line repeated over and again. In fact, it’s so ‘Give Him A Great Big Kiss’ I can’t help but tingle all over – but as imagined by someone imagining they’re in She And Him (especially the male vocal), only super saturated. Damn. Sure damn. Yes I’m jealous.

The final track … I can’t type any more. It’s too sad. The final track.

POSTSCRIPT: I couldn’t give a shit about the hype, or media manipulation. I’m a big fan of media manipulation when it comes to bands I like.

8 Responses to 10 REVIEWS OF THE NEW CULTS ALBUM – 1: in real time

  1. Trent May 27, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    When it’s weak it feels like Liam Finn with naive fem-pop vaguaries and a crippling sense of its own pastel production. When it’s strong you can sense The Supremes dragged through 50’s years of musical misunderstanding with The Flaming Lips on autoplay over a standardised surf-beat. I love surf-beat but there really is something cynical about engineering the pretense of child-like wimsy into a record. Fine maybe when you’re actually producing wash because that’s easier to imitate on poor equipment than the high budget, high fidelity sound of a major studio, but there’s nothing lo-fi about it. This is well made, well mixed and cleverly produced. What a shame it’s riding the backs of genuinly indepedent music, which can once again be sidelined to the might of majors.
    Q: Where’s the content? It has this common stance of being neither one thing nor the other. No bold statements either melodically, lyrically, or musically makes it feel like fading brown-patterned wallpaper or the imitation patina of a iphone polaroid app. There’s nothing much to dislike. The lyrics are almost willfully, deliberately benial. This is pastiche music with none of the reverence and lots of the nostalgia. It fair reeks of nostalgia in fact, but then some one once said all nostalgia is a longing for paradise. Some might just find it, despite the now-you-see-it now-you-don’t cooporate hand. I almost want to.

  2. hannah golightly May 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    I’d like to thank you Everett True for writing this review. I couldn’t bring myself to do a straight review of the album and opted to do it in pictures in collapseboard tradition instead. Now after being confused as to why I was feeling like that, after reading your review, all has become clear. Whenever I have fallen for a band in the past (this is extremely rare, wish it happened more often but anyway…) I have always enjoyed reading their reviews to squeeze even more juice out of the experience. Reading your review I feel once again like that teenager who cut out all the Hole and Nirvana reviews and glued them into a scrap book. Thanks for that. I needed it I think.

    To respond to Trent and the other talks of production. I’d like to remind all interested parties that most of their album was recorded in their sitting room- that’s what Maddy said on the radio. It doesn’t get much more ‘indie’ than that. Oasis and all the bands on Creation can’t exactly claim that can they.

    What makes Cults different to all the other retro bands and singers, from my point of view (and believe me, I lived in musically-dust-ridden Liverpool for 7 years so am an expert on retro-pastiche whether I ever wanted to be or not) is that it actually sounds FRESH and innovative in spite of the obvious strong-as-fuck retro influence and genre of the music on the surface. It sounds like Cults have channelled music directly from their souls with very little interference from their minds. Maybe they were abducted by aliens in the summer of 1969 and have only just been returned. Cynical-sounding? Are you out of your mind Trent? Couldn’t be further from that in my ears.

  3. Julian May 28, 2011 at 2:21 am

    “It sounds like Cults have channelled music directly from their souls with very little interference from their minds.”

    Good line Hannah!

  4. Trent May 28, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I didn’t mean that the music itself was cynical (in fact it comes across to me as unusually positive on the whole) rather that I get the impression that their ‘Indie’ credentials are falsified, that is, they’re not independent at all, that they’re a product and their sound is cleverly engineered to fit the ‘Indie’, found-it-on-a-blog market. That would be cynical indeed considering the nature of the work. However, you say Hannah it was largely recorded in their living room, if that’s the case then my point is moot, unless of course they recorded in their living room using stella equipment and a class engineer, then had it mixed by Mr Mixing Badass at Badass Studios and mastered by Mr Master, King of Mastering.
    If you love it then it doesn’t really matter either way I suppose.
    I probably am out of mind though.

  5. hannah golightly May 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    ha ha ha… well they are boyfriend and girlfriend too…. maybe that’s a made up marketing ploy by Doctor Evil in his secret underground lair, although they did look pretty loved up when I met them in person the other week. Perhaps the label sent them to acting school so that they could dupe us all! Murharharharr! ?

  6. hannah golightly May 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Anyway, style aside- I think that Maddy has a really amazing voice that I could listen to all day long. Sometimes it’s as simple as that- an amazing voice can transform the run-of-the-mill into the sublime and divine.

  7. Trent May 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Haha. They’re not brother and sister as well are they?
    But I must say your enthusiasm is infectious Hannah, damn it, I’ve had to put the album on again…..I do like it but I think I tend to be suspicious of anything that resembles pop in the modern day and equally so of anything that I perceive as trendy. It’s as much a suspicion of my own motives.

  8. hannah golightly May 30, 2011 at 2:31 am

    Thanks. I am the same as you though- I am highly suspicious of popular music. In fact, I am so contrary that if something is popular, I generally assume that it won’t be for me. Luckily, I didn’t have anyone tell me a thing about Cults before the first time I heard them and was able to take them at face value and just listen with an open mind and was free from my own prejudice to decide if I liked the music, which happened in a nano-second. I was instantly hooked on it.

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