Cults, led by Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, was at the center of a lot of buzz when it released its enjoyable self-titled debut two years ago. The band made waves by appropriating the classic sound of ’60s girl-group pop, complete with the “wall of sound” that producer Phil Spector often employed. Cults did a fantastic job of capturing that nostalgia and translating it with forward-thinking momentum and interesting hooks. The buzz behind their second album, Static, is built off a situation that has little to do with the music. In the recording process, Follin and Oblivion broke off their romantic relationship while deciding to continue the band, a decision that resonates throughout the album.
While Cults’ music has always been dark — their first album contained snippets of speeches from actual cult leaders — the songs on Static push firmly into a moodier territory. A lot of the high-energy singles from Cults have been replaced by slower and more somber cuts like “Were Before” or “High Road.” While it would be foolish to assume these songs are darker just because they broke up, there is definitely more tension present.
What Static lacks in immediacy, it makes up for with complexity. Cults’ second album implements more strings throughout, with the band creating lush arrangements that add layers to tracks like “So Far.” Where its first album grabbed listeners from the beginning with its hooks, Static takes a longer time to reveal itself. Nothing here matches the rush of older singles like “Oh My God” or “Abducted,” but there are still highlights like the sing-along chorus of “Keep Your Head Up” or the dramatic and soaring standout “We’ve Got It.”
Static’s biggest departure from the first record is that, rather than frontloading the singles, the band took a staged approach and saved the best songs for last. “Shine A Light” sounds fuller and more cinematic than anything Cults has done before, and “No Hope” closes the album with a bleak but fully realized sentiment.
Much will be made about Follin and Oblivion’s breakup, but the album they made in the aftermath is much more interesting than their previous work. While it may not be as accessible or engaging, it is still a solid album showcasing a growth in the musical complexity of the band as well as the singing prowess of Follin. The songs on Static aren’t quite as memorable as the ones on Cults, but they do extinguish the notion that Cults is a band with only one trick.