On Static Cults strip away the glockenspiel and samples from their debut EP in favor of a darker, leaner sound. Combining elements of indie pop, rock and shoegaze, this album focuses on vocalist Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion’s breakup in 2012, and both deliver one of this year’s more honest, introspective looks at failed romance, and rebuilding. Static proves that the band that doesn’t stay together can still play together.
The short intro, ‘I Know’, has Follin repeating “I know / you’re mine / but still / I die”, as she gets swallowed by eerie, out-of-tune piano and synth. This leads into the more up-tempo ‘I Can Hardly Make You Mine’. Here, Follin exhibits a broader vocal range with great confidence, and this song represents a more bombastic side to Cults. With the mindset of an early post-romance stage, Follin reflects: “I don’t think I can make it / oh you’re the one”. Because the album is entirely based around such a personal event, each song stands in for various emotions felt in the ritual of grieving and letting go.
‘Always Forever’ has this schmaltzy joy and almost bitter tone to it, which makes the song title deliciously Stepford-esque in retrospect. Oblivion’s lingering organ chord signals the beginning of the next song, ‘High Road’, which laments burning bridges in the heat of the moment. As Static’s longest song, it’s not bad, but it keeps going longer than it needs to and is fairly easy to tune out. ‘Were Before’ opens with Oblivion singing and Follin wailing effortlessly out of thin air. It’s a relaxing breather from the shoegaze-heavy batch of songs that came before, and features guest cello and violin accompaniment.
Follin ponders “I wonder how you sleep at night?” on ‘So Far’. It’s a powerful question that lies somewhere between lonely confidence and curious repugnance, matched by a masterful layering of bass, synth and guitar by Oblivion - he then abruptly ends the song with three strums. Next comes ‘Keep Your Head Up’, which slowly builds into a booming bass drum and clapping rhythm. While there’s a lot of bite in the choruses, it slightly loses momentum in between, but becomes electrifying again when the next one rolls around. The interlude and two songs that come before the finale, however, causes the album to lose momentum - there’s nothing bad to say about them, but also nothing that hasn’t been done by now.
Oddly enough, the closer titled ‘No Hope’ is the sunniest and most optimistic song on Static, which repeats the mantra heard earlier on ‘I Know’. Styled as an end-credits song, Follin sings “There’s no hope…for the wicked that’s inside my soul”. Oblivion later joins her in singing this, as if to implicate himself, too. The swell of static distorts the song’s end until it shuts off and, fittingly, ends the album’s dramatic affairs. Speaking of literal static, the cover artwork harkens back to Cults’ debut where Follin and Oblivion are caught mid-headbang—this time looking like phosphorus holograms. It’s a cheeky look back at where they were before (blip on the Internet’s radar set to blow up) to where they are now (major record label) in the span of two years.
Static’s first half deals with the incoming breakup and initial emotional trauma while the second half focuses on redemption and loving the self again. Exploring both their feelings and experiences, Follin and Oblivion do each other justice. There’s no malice to be found here, only a more mature sound, more complex composition and refreshed determination.
By Cory Healy