by Jasmine Chan
[three_fourth]The latest release from Cults reflects on the personal growth of the musicians, Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, and starkly contrasts the glass half-empty outlook of their self-titled album from 2011 and Static from 2013.
Their breakout hit from their first album, “Go Outside,” can be interpreted as the story of a toxic relationship where one person wants to live life in the light, while the other refuses to leave their dark hole of depression. “Never Heal Myself” can be seen as a response to that track, where the damaged one fears the other leaving because they cannot fix themselves and make the relationship work. These were based on the unsuccessful romantic relationship between the duo. Oblivion described the concept: “There’s a feeling our generation has. The feeling there’s always something better around the corner, that everyone is born to be a star. The feeling that life is waiting for you, and yet it’s not happening. All of that is static.” Although the romance between Oblivion and Follin fizzled, the break-up didn’t hinder their growth as musicians but instead, propelled it for a stronger second album.
Offering exhibits a refreshing, new mindset for Cults. The opening title track is described by Follin as “a jam about finding hope in what can seem like a hopeless situation.” The chorus, “Hanging at the end of a rope / But I can make you an offering / Such a terrifying joke / But I can make you an offering,” demonstrates empathy as if Cults is saying “life gets hard, but we’ve been there. Finding happiness is not as impossible as it seems”. This message is more palatable for forlorn cynics that are tired of the “don’t worry, be happy” theme of most pop music. The sound compliments the lyrics, with uplifting synths and a groovy ’80s feel.
The next track, “I Took Your Picture” highlights Follin’s youthful vocals multi-tracked into ethereal harmonies like a children’s choir, contrasting with the heavy bassline for a fun tune, despite nearly nonsensical lyrics. “Right Words” is another stand out that packs a punch with electric guitar riffs and a foot-tapping beat. As for the rest of the album, the layering and extensive synths with repetitive lyrics start to sound over-produced and glazed over, fading into the background and losing attention. The muddled percussion in “Nothing is Written” has a drowning effect that is uncomfortable to listen to. The chorus, “Round and ’round / we’re chasin’ a memory / We gain some ground then downward trajectory / ‘Round and ’round, we keep on turning / A month of somedays come,” cuts through, but is unsettling. Follin’s vocals edge on strained and whiny, which is disappointing compared to her other work that is softer and dreamlike. The last track, “Gilded Lily” uses the Shakespeare allusion to show that she hasn’t completely gotten over the breakup. The four lines of “Haven’t I given enough, given enough?” in the pre-chorus seem to contradict the overall message of Offering, but it is a humanizing reminder that recovery has its ups and downs.
Overall, I’m happy to see that Cults has finally been able to move on from the overwhelming pessimism found in their first two albums. Not only are the lyrical themes new, but the dance-heavy sound shows a little diversity that we haven’t seen before. Although it has flaws, Offering is a solid addition to Cults’ repertoire and shows promise for future works in the indie-pop sphere.