Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion are no longer a couple and their second album wears its bruised heart on its sleeve.
Cults’ 2011 self-titled debut album was a triumph. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion’s use of echo, fuzz and well-chosen spoken-word samples transformed their fairly standard indie-pop songs into something a lot more unsettling. The duo’s follow-up, ‘Static’, sees them dial down the samples and lyrics about being abducted, to create something a great deal more human. As a result, ‘Static’ is a hell of a lot more emotional than its predecessor.
This may also be due to the personal circumstances surrounding the writing and recording of the album, which saw Follin and Oblivion splitting up as a couple. Lyrics such as “You and me, always forever” (from ‘Always Forever’) and “If you could just give me a sign, we could leave it all behind” (from ‘I Can Hardly Make You Mine’) suggest we are in the territory of the indie break-up album. In less skilful hands this could be self-indulgent, but Cults have significantly upped their songwriting and arranging skills on ‘Static’, opening up their rather closed musical world in the process. A song like ‘I Can Hardly Make You Mine’ benefits from an epic psychedelic arrangement that twists around its winsome vocal melody, sounding like MGMT at their most coherent. ‘High Road’ and ‘No Hope’, meanwhile, sport bass and drum lines that weigh in on the side of funk. The latter takes Cults close to a modern R&B sound.
The great, soaring walls of guitars that drove their debut album are still present, of course, but on ‘Static’ they mingle effortlessly with vertiginous strings (as on ‘So Far’, probably the closest the band will ever get to the drama of a Bond theme) and moody organ chords (‘Keep Your Head Up’). The result is a great album that simultaneously wears its bruised heart on its sleeve (the lovelorn should be warned: it’s a real tearjerker at times), and sugars its melancholy with opulent musical arrangements. Heartbreak has rarely sounded so sweet.