By Ryan Leas
After an immense degree of hype in the wake of a few Internet hits and a massive amount of attention from media outlets like Pitchfork, New York duo Cults finally arrives with their first full-length album. Their eponymous debut is as accessible and catchy as anyone could have hoped after the promising intro of 2010’s immaculate single “Go Outside” and subsequent E.P. Though the album is thoroughly enjoyable, it doesn’t quite hold up to the weight of the anticipation that had been heaped upon the band, as it succeeds on the surface but fails to yield many revelations upon further listens.
Cults’ sunny girl-group melodies recall ’60s pop, their entire debut sounding as if it would have fit in on a California beach circa 1965. In particular, “Never Saw the Point” and the quirky “Most Wanted” are so melodically rooted in ’60s pop tropes that they feel almost reminiscent of some ephemeral hit, no matter how strong they are as songs in of themselves. Cults isn’t just a simple rehash, though, offering a spacey twist on the style they so accurately quote. This characteristic is primarily rooted in the production. Cults’ debut is cloaked in warm, heavy reverb; not the sort of echo-chamber reverb of My Morning Jacket circa “It Still Moves,” but rather a layered, thick sound that evokes the sense of a particularly viscous summer haze. The quality lends the entire album a certain otherworldly vibe that is somehow simultaneously playful and contributes to just how infectious and inviting the album feels.
For all of Cults’ ostensibly cheery dispositions, there are some seriously unnerving songs here, too. Buried under the gloss and catchiness, Cults sneak in odd and haunting melodies. “Walk at Night” is a perfect example; it plugs along on one of the vintage ’60s rhythms the band employs throughout but features a vocal part that sounds more like a creepy night gone wrong on the boardwalk than the chilled-out beach tunes that precede it. Other times, brooding sentiments clandestinely channel themselves through the brighter melodies, like how lead singer Madeline Follin plaintively proclaims “I could never heal myself/ I could never heal myself/ Enough for you” on one of the album’s poppy tunes, “Never Heal Myself.” That track is followed by the slightly more angular “Oh My God,” which, despite its underwater groove, conveys real fervor and angst in its chorus.
Though the album can be a bit repetitive, it’s surreptitiously addicting. Follin’s detached vocals make the album sort of ethereal, almost imperceptible if you don’t listen too closely. But after a few listens, many of Cults’ songs prove to be the kinds of songs that don’t let you go. Highlights like “Go Outside” are built on stunning hooks, the sort that make this album an impeccable summer listen. Unfortunately, the main drawback is that this is where the album’s merits stop. It is indeed a great summer album but fails to yield the sort of depth or totally consistent brilliance that had been expected of the band, whether or not all of the media frenzy was fair or justified. If every song was as immediately stunning and impossible to let go as “Go Outside,” this wouldn’t really matter, but the already brief album starts to drag towards the end with lesser tracks like “Bad Things” and “Bumper.” Cults had a lot of expectations to live up to, and though their debut may not be as earth-shattering as some may have hoped, it’s still a thoroughly entertaining album that suggests a lot of potential for the band’s future.