Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The dynamics of a jilted lover and that of the jilter always make for fascinating song fodder. And sometimes, the way this sound and mood is done, can make the situation sound almost sunny. This is the New York band Cults' take on those kinds of things. The group, made up of principles Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, goes for sunniness whenever it's possible, squeezing that sunshine out and into a sound that feels like a honeymoon, or the dying gasps of cabin fever, as the weather's breaking, the cloud's are clearing and the midriffs, arms and legs start to be bared again. It's a bagging up and putting on mothballs all of the ugly, cold temps and making most cares or concerns negligible. All except for the jiltings, but there are only one or two of those going around, and they're just going around in circles, spinning with the room as the legs start to get lighter, as somewhere in the place, we can hear dancing happening - solo dancing of a girl softly padding across a wooden floor. Follin is a remarkably adorable frontwoman, swaying to the smooth grooves her band puts forth, making it feel as if we were taken back to a time when The Platters and The Temptations were youngsters. The music sometimes feels as if it belongs in the Apollo Theater. She makes the songs - all but two that the band plays live have yet to be recorded - sound as if they were being sung by a woman who's finding out what love is for the first time. There's so much innocence and glorious newness to the vibes that she brings forth that it feels utterly special - as if pain and elation are closely related. It feels like frolicking coolness and the kind of music that one makes when there remains in that person a belief that there's magic in a first kiss, as well as in a last one. In one of the songs that the band performs live, Oblivion and Follin duet, trading their sides of the story, over smoky organs and upstroked guitar lines. They sing, "I had learned of all his lies/I took a look in her eyes and she caught me by surprise/I threw his shit on the floor/She rushed me out the door/He tried to explain/I didn't do anything/I knew that he was bad/Man, I knew just what he had," telling the tale what seems to be a foolish boy and a scorned girl who is pushed to a point where she wishes that the two had never met. There's crying and, if this were a Meg Ryan film, there would be ice cream eating, while watching old movies in pajama bottoms. The boy thinks, "If she's this crazy now, there's no telling what's in store," and yet he comes to the conclusion that he's fallen for the girl as much as she's fallen for him and they wind up together, but for how long? It's a tender, yet heated exchange that is a modern take on kinds of loving and cheating (or the accusations of cheating) ballads that Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty were making in Nashville in the 1970s, when she would comment that people were accusing her of breaking up a happy home and Twitty basically saying, "It's all good. It's not a home, it's just a house, babe." Cults delivers on the theme of love as a hazard and a harbor. We can all just dance and sway with them, together.