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MAX’S MUSIC BOX: NYC-based Cults take a new direction after relationship break-up

With the duo’s song “Go Outside,” Cults’ fun 60’s-inspired debut album became a hit. However, after the band’s success, singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion ran into personal issues. Later the two’s romantic relationship ended. However, they continued to make music. As a result, Static’s subject matter mainly pertains to the couple’s break-up. While the album is still recognizably Cults, the warm upbeat album has been replaced with a sorrowful sophomore album. Static is more meaningful than their debut, and it clearly surpasses it musically as well.

1.     “I know” is great because it acts as a prelude to the album. The song is the key to Cults’ formula: lo-fi guitar distortion accompanied by Madelin Follin’s high voice. The tone of the album becomes obvious as well. The summery pop songs of 2011 have been replaced with tracks based on melancholy and heart-break. The song is also ironic in that it repeats, “I know you’re mine,” while the next song is entitled “I Can Hardly Make You Mine.” (8 pts. out of 10)

2.     “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” is full of mixed feelings and frustration. First, Follin sings, “I don’t think I can make it/and I know you’re the one.” However, later the story changes. “But I know you’re not the one or the only/but we both know what it’s like to be lonely.” The song’s story and meaning are clear. Musically, the song conveys frustration and a hint of aggression. The distorted instruments, a beating drum, high voice, piano and guitar make a lot of noise. However, while the song is often cacophonous, the noise is pleasant and melodic. It’s easy to pick out the melody among the distortion, and the noise adds to the overall frustration the song conveys. (8.5/10)

3.    “Always Forever” has Cults written all over it. The simple introductory drum beat and distorted keyboard sounded distinctly like Cults. And albeit a bit darker, “Always Forever” could’ve been on the Cults’ last album. Over and over Follin sings, “You and me always forever/we could stay along together.”  With her angelic voice, it’s easy to believe Follin. Again, Cults’ song is ironic. In “High Road” Follin sings, “Maybe if you leave this time, tonight’s show/Should’ve taken the high road.” It’s clear that it won’t work out, but Follin remains in denial. (9/10)


4.    “High Road’s” instrumentation fills it with tension. Tremoloing violins and the bass line contribute to the suspenseful feeling of the track. Most of all, a few staccato notes that sound like they’re straight out of the James Bond theme song further build the tension. And every time the song builds, the chorus acts as a release.  Moreover, while Follin’s voice is generally sweet, she sings the song in a distinctly irritated manner. The ability to show the emotion through the music rather than through the lyrics makes it a particularly well produced track. (8/10)

5.     “Were Before” is an obvious continuation of “High Road.” While the tempo is slightly slower, the melody is almost identical, and the song’s beat remains the same. It’s a bit redundant, and it might have been better suited as one long song with some kind of transition. Lyrically, the song repeats “you can’t fix that” and “I like it like the way we were before.” Follin and Oblivion continue to lament their relationship’s end. (6.5/10)

6.     Opening with a mesmerizing, distorted guitar arpeggio, “So Far” follows the same basic Cults outline. Again, the song is full of lo-fi noise, but the song remains melodic and appealing. The song continues to follow the theme of a broken-up relationship. “I wonder how you sleep at night/you know that it’s not just alright.” (8/10)

7.     “Keep Your Head Up” has everything. It opens with a combination of reverb, distortion, and muted vocals. The song actually reminds me of MGMT’s work in a lot of respects. The intro synth is especially similar to an MGMT song. At times it’s hard to understand the lyrics behind the haze of effects and instruments, though. It’s one of Cults’ weaker songs due to the lack of organization. (6/10)

8.   While “TV Dream” is only a minute long, it’s one of Static’s best moments. It offers a break from the noise, featuring only a synth, organ and Follin’s voice. It’s also a turning point in the record. The tracks slowly begin to become livelier after “TV Dream.” The harmonizing between all of the instruments is beautiful. On top of that, Follin’s voice is completely refined and sweet.There aren’t any pitch issues, nor is her voice distorted. (10/10)


9.     “We’ve Got It” returns the audience back to the album’s basic theme. The chorus sings, “There’s no one there for me but you/there’s only you my love.” Follin is back to her emotional self, and she continues to elaborate on her relationship. However, she isn’t bitter anymore. The song itself isn’t as noisy, but it still adheres to the basic Cults style. (8/10)


10. At the point of “Shine A Light,” it becomes clear that the album is coming to a close. The music doesn’t sound as sad and hopeless. The distorted reverb on some of the guitar chords is pleasant rather than noise-inducing. (8.5/10)


11. Static’s final track literally incorporates static into the intro. “No Hope” is one of the slower tunes on the album, and as the song ends it slows to a close. WIth the lyrics, “Burn down the bridges/burn down the town/and forget tomorrow,” “No Hope’s” meaning becomes clear. Follin seems to have finally given up on the relationship at this point. It offers closure to the album, and musically it’s great too.  The familiar piano chords, guitar, and drums grace the song. However, the singing is distinctly different at times. Follin sings in a lower register from the middle to the end of the song. Ultimately, “No Hope” adds closure to the album’s theme. (9/10).

Overall Rating: (9 pts. out of 10)

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