Cults were formed last year by New York University students Brian Oblivion and Madeline Folli. They released a three-song EP that generated positive press, leading to this year’s eponymous debut album, an engaging mix of 1960s girl-group vocal stylings and modern indie-rock sensibilities.
Opening track Abduction introduces the record’s reoccurring themes: floaty atmospherics, ghostly spoken word sound snippets, Folli’s girlish crooning and lots of glockenspiel. As the song hits its stride, a razor-sharp, made-for-speed bassline cuts out a melody above which Folli belts out a tale of destined heartbreak: “I knew right then that I’d been abducted/I knew right then that he would be taking my heart.”
Sometimes the band’s references are incredibly obvious, as on You Know What I Mean, which features a vocal melody that is a dead ringer for The Supremes’ hit Where Did Our Love Go. Still, it’s tough to find much fault in this. Replete with huge, heavily reverbed snare hits and finger snap accents, the song is an unabashed ode to
old R ’n’ B.
Never Saw the Point is another track that has clear ties to the 1960s: blushing, sugary vocals, a bouncy bassline and a strong double-snare backbeat. Catchy and fun, it dares you not to like it — as does the entire album.
In light of a recent surge in the number of indie rock bands clearly influenced by 1960s girl-groups, it’s hard to categorize the Cults sound as “fresh.” They do what they do very well, however, and they do it with enough personality to carry them further than most of their peers.
Beyonce Knowles is one of the most successful pop artists of all time, having sold over 75 million albums worldwide and taken home 16 Grammy awards. Her fourth studio album, 4, is also her fourth straight to debut at the top of the charts. Said to take inspiration from legendary R ’n’ B acts such as Michael Jackson and Prince, the album is a significant departure from Beyonce’s recent works. Unfortunately, she seems to have taken a turn for the worse.
1+1 opens the album with a painfully simple yet sloppily played arpeggiated guitar figure that features truly vile tone. It sounds a little like a pimply teen awkwardly plucking away on his very first practice amp. What follows is a selection of the very worst sounds from 1980s R ’n’ B ballads: crystalline chimes, melodramatic piano chords, and limp, “funky” bass-lines. Against this pastiche of banalities, Beyonce delivers some truly cringe-worthy lines: “I don’t know much about guns but I’ve been shot by you.” The guitar solo near the end sounds like a brick of Wisconsin cheese, completing the song’s downward spiral; if this was meant to resemble Prince, it has failed miserably.
The Best Thing I Never Had is better, but still not very good. Built around a traipsing little piano figure without any meat on its bones, the song falls flat on its face at the chorus, which, for all its desire to be a life-affirming sing-along, lacks the punch it needs to really cut through.
It is, however, very difficult to find any fault in Beyonce’s singing. Her voice is a wondrous instrument with incredible range, but even it cannot save a record as uninspired and sluggish as this one. There are those who will praise 4’s relatively tame production value, and I admit it was an admirable risk to take in a world where studio tricks move units. But once these songs are stripped bare, there simply isn’t much left worth listening to.