Pick a review of Cults , any review, and you’ll find references to Girl Groups and walls of sound. Umm…no. Comments like that tell me that the reviewer has given only a cursory listen to, oh, fifteen second clips on Last FM. The craft (let’s not say art please) of music crit has taken a nose dive. A few clicks avails a cursory listen to any music, any artist. Since there’s no longer any real time invested in digging through brick and mortar stores or mail ordering rare B-sides from obscure European P.O. boxes, it’s become simple -- almost de rigueur -- to flit from song to song, site to site. It’s the modern equivalent of channel surfing. If you don’t like the first half minute 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 a relation to the Girl Group sound but it’s the same influence that informed the Phil Spectors and Shadow Mortons: post-fifties pop when only a few shredded vestiges of doo wop lingered. Cults could just as easily garner comparison to ABBA, The Jesus & Mary Chain and, sadly, a little bit of Fleetwood Mac. I realize it’s hip to love Fleetwood Mac nowadays but please remember that -- to quote John Huston in the Polanski classic Chinatown -- “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”
It may sound like I’m working up to a slag on Cults. Far from it. From Manhattan (not Brooklyn as they are quick to point out) Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion might have gathered their influences purposefully but I’m thinking it’s more a sort of music culture osmosis. For example, Molly Hamilton of Widowspeak says she’d never heard Mazzy Star until every music critic hauled out that (quite accurate) comparison.
With two releases under their belts, Cults’ music has an interesting range even within a somewhat narrow confine. There’s a galloping pop sound heading towards Raveonettes territory in “Abducted”. “Bad Things” sounds like stripped down ABBA. An up-to-date Little Peggy March on a psychoanalyst’s couch in “You Know What IMean” or an echo of The pre-hit Shirelles with “Go Outside”. In “High Road” there’s even a little smooth funk, like Gamble & Huff mellowed into an opiated pre-Madonna on the dancefloor. What I’m getting at with all these odd comparisons is that we listeners can read any of our influences into what we hear. If it’s a happy comparison so much the better, the hell with the critics (your narrator included).
Much of Cults’ work is simultaneously bass heavy and treble heavy. I’m curious if the band can reproduce its heavily-processed sound faithfully onstage but since the music industry has been steadily heading away from actual musical instruments towards sample-driven touch-of -a-button production, I’m betting there will be few if any sonic issues.
Opening is Mood Rings whose “Year of Dreams” evokes a Girl Group lonelyhearts sound far more than any Cults composition. They also head straight for the gut with driving static reverb in songs like “Washer”, bookended by breathy and languid shoegaze. Also on the bill, SAACO goes for a fuller sound, sort of ambient dark psych with a big backbeat.
Cults, SACCO, Mood Rings
Friday November 8, 2013
Launchpad 618 central SE
Doors 8pm $17.00 All-ages ( 13+)
this originally appeared in slightly different form in Weekly Alibi