Cults is an indie pop duo based in Manhattan. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion are from San Diego, but the two moved to New York to study film at The New School. Like a lot of college kids, they started making music in their spare time. Unlike most kids, though, they turned it into something real, and unlike about 99.9%, they immediately caught fire. Within months, they were turning heads with the release of their single and EP to critical acclaim. Right away, they became darlings with their debut self-titled album in the late spring of 2011. I got the album back then and it sort of sat in my library, off to the side. While everyone was going nuts over it, I wasn’t giving it the time of day. And now I’m finally understanding what the buzz was about. This is a good record.
Their music is very much in that 1960s Motown/ girl-group revival. There’s also a vague hint of that low-fi surf pop revival of which Best Coast is the current champion. Like Best Coast, they record as a duo, but they hire a band to play with them on tour.
There’s something else that’s a bit old school about the album. Eleven songs. All are almost exactly three minutes long. The longest song is 3:41, while the shortest is 2:33. Five of them are in the 2:55 to 3:09 range. That’s Pop Song Craftsmanship 101 right there. Because it’s 1965, and your record needs to be exactly three minutes long if you want it to get played on AM radio.
All kidding aside, this really is a fantastic record, and I’m not sure why I was missing it for more than a year. I just was.
I don’t think there’s a stinker on the album, and right now, this is my favorite:
“Never Heal Myself” by Cults
First off, I love the tuned percussion, as I always love the tuned percussion. That’s always a brilliant way to start a song and grab my attention.
I love the way they treat Follin’s vocals. Whether it’s delay, or layers on layers, or both, I love that sound. Especially in the chorus.
The bulk of the song is about the gal trying to change her ways to please some fella:
Tell me all the things that you thought weren’t right about me and my life
Tell me there’s a way that i can shake this cloud and stand near to your light
I never wanted anyone to say that i have hidden myself in disguise
Please don’t leave me lonely tell me all the ways to make myself right in your eyes
And that’s another way that Cults’ music is reminiscent of that Motown and 60s girl group sound. Those songs were often about accepting the psychological abuse and changing her ways or looks just to please the abusive guy. All in the name of perceived “love”. There’s not really a better example of this than story of The Ronettes, who Phil Spector created, then destroyed simply because he was a controlling freak. And Ronnie let it happen. In the name of love.
However, there’s an interesting twist at the end. The first two times through the chorus, it gets really big.
But i can never heal myself enough for
Never heal myself enough for you
There’s the implication that she’s gonna keep trying, even if she knows that that fella is never gonna be satisfied by her “healing”. After the second chorus, it breaks down and goes into a third chorus without a verse. And it’s very, very small. Just a gently strummed guitar, and the decidedly different vocals:
Yeah I try to heal myself
And turn around to someone else
But I can never be myself, so fuck you
Finally, she’s had enough. She doesn’t want to “heal herself” anymore. No more pretending to be someone else. She’s not the problem. He is.
I love it.
On the band’s website, they suggest buying their record as an iTunes download. I can’t really stand behind that recommendation. I’ll suggest shopping it at amazon here, where you can get it in CD, vinyl or mp3 format. Either way, you should absolutely get this record if you don’t have it. You should revisit it if you do have it.