That was the situation facing Madeline Follin and Brian Obvilion, the New York duo known as Cults whose song Go Outside was, thanks to an unlikely soundtracking of a cider advert, pretty much inescapable for a time in 2011. It inevitably gives Static a new and compelling twist, even though much of this follow-up maintains its predecessor’s qualities, even down to the familiar cover-art.
A pleasing aspect of Static is that the songs seem much stronger this time around. While the band’s debut self-titled album was fun and breezy, it didn’t quite stand up to repeated listens. Static is a different story altogether, thanks to a heavyweight production from Shane Stoneback and Ben H Allen III, that often sounds like a less abrasive version of contemporaries Sleigh Bells.
It’s also impossible to listen to without the spectre of that break-up hanging over the album. Whether it be the irony of Follin singing “You and I, always and forever” on Always Forever, or lines like “There’s no one there for me, there’s only you my love”, there’s no doubt that this is an album fused by heartbreak. The album even ends with the starkly titled No Hope, in case the message has somehow failed to get across.
Yet it’s the juxtaposition of these downbeat lyrics with melodies that almost explode with joy which makes Static so listenable. The driving I Can Hardly Make You Mine is Spector girl-pop remade for the 21st century, sounding something like you’d imagine The Pipettes would have done had they been produced by Steve Albini. High Road and the deceptively joyous We’ve Got It both get their hooks deep inside you, while Keep Your Head Up could be this album’s breakout hit, managing to sound both sunny and mysteriously dark.
At times, it doesn’t quite work. Follin’s vocals may prove too sugary and saccharine for some, and the bludgeoning production overwhelms her voice at times. Yet the songs on Static are strong enough to overcome this, with only the half-formed sketch of TV Dream threatening to slow down the momentum of the album. The more you listen, the more you notice: the banjo buried deep in the mix on We’ve Got It; the menace and passion lurking underneath the excellent So Far; and the hazy nod to Beach House on the suffocatingly sad No Hope.
Static isn’t a perfect album, but it contains enough promising signs of evolution to predict a long career for Cults – although whether they’ll want to continue as a band is a whole other matter.