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Fast Forward: Cults, August 1 at The Speakeasy PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 28 July 2010 08:25


When the band Cults plays a show at The Speakeasy on Sunday, guitarist/songwriter Brian Oblivion promises plenty of fresh material. "Well, obviously," he said in a phone interview last week. "That's kind of the running gag of the tour. 'This is a new song. We wrote it a month ago.' 'This is an old song. We wrote it four months ago.'"

To put it mildly, things have moved quickly for the duo of Oblivion and Madeline Follin -- which adds four members for live performance. As Oblivion said, "We've had to kind of put everything you do normally in a band on fast forward." After unexpectedly finding a national audience earlier this year, Cults is now touring with Maps & Atlases (through mid-August), and the pair is working on songs for a full-length that it hopes to release around the end of the year. The two core members are taking a year off from school to see where music takes them.

His version of events goes like this: "Madeline and I met, started dating, and started working on some songs together. And we just put them up online, and people started sharing them ... ."

The slightly more detailed version involves the pair of film students reworking and recording three of Oblivion's songs and posting them to a site. In March, picked the track "Go Outside" as its "best new music," noting in passing that "there's more information on the wrapper of a candy bar than there is on the Internet about Cults."

The band ran with that idea. Despite being tapped by Pitchfork, Cults has yet to create an online presence beyond its BandCamp page, which offers no biographical information.

"We didn't think it was really going to catch on, so we weren't trying to promote," he explained. "We were just trying to put these together for our friends.

"Once things started happening, we thought about it and realized that the kind of marketing that most bands do for themselves is not really our style." Oblivion said Cults is trying to "maintain a little bit of anonymity and a little bit of mystery around the whole thing." (Speaking of which: He claimed "Brian Oblivion" is not a pseudonym, which if true suggests parents who are fans of one of David Cronenberg's body-horror movies.)

Pitchfork said that outside of a sinister Jim Jones sample ("Death is not a fearful thing; it's living that's treacherous"), "Go Outside" is "pure butter," with "the innocent and balmy feel that brings to mind Swedish indie pop, with a tinkling glockenspiel cutting through humidity, an appealingly lazy bassline, and joyous sing-along vocals. But for all its simplicity, there's some deep feeling coarsing through 'Go Outside,' and Cults transcend the song's Free Design-inspired 1960s pop origins."

The praise is warranted, and although it's foolish to put much stock in three songs, I'd bet the band has many more good tracks coming. The girl-group sound and Follin's voice hook the listener with up-front sweetness, but underneath are contradictions, compelling textures, and a literate intellectual foundation.

Oblivion cited Lesley Gore and the Shangri-Las (along with James Brown) as touchstones, and noted that the '60s vibe is blended with modern electronic flourishes. "Most Wanted" comes from the same place as "Go Outside," while "The Curse" is more spare, bluesy, and raw in its verses.

"It wasn't a calculated move at all," Oblivion said of Cults' retro approach. "It just felt right for her voice, and it felt right for the songs."

The samples on two of the songs aren't merely a nod to the band's name. "The voices in the music speak from outside the perspective of what we're talking about in the songs," he said. "We wanted to create a dialectic relationship in the music." He added that the idea came from their film backgrounds, with the aim of "injecting some sort of characters into the songs."

Another goal of Cults' songs is to replicate what John Cassavetes accomplished in his movies. "It's the human element of his movies -- the raw simplicity of how that comes across so well," Oblivion said. "Aesthetically, we try to honor that same perspective. ... Just as you can tell a story with a single, silent shot in a film, you can tell a story with just the tone of the music."

He added that "for the new record, we're trying to think even more cinematically about music, where every song has its time, its place, and its characters. ...

"We think about our band very much like an art project. These songs, we see them as a series of paintings. They all need to fit within the idea of a larger framework."

Cults will perform on Sunday, August 1, at Circa '21's The Speakeasy (1818 Third Avenue in Rock Island). The all-ages show will also feature Hollows and begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $7.

To download Cults' three songs, go to

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