by Preston Radtke
Normally a four-year gap between releases is nothing to spill ink over in the music industry. Earlier this year, notable artists like LCD Soundsystem, Feist, and Wolf Parade all put out records after longer terms of absence. But Cults’ musical silence seemed more pronounced and surprising. The band seemed to be ascending toward their climactic peak after their self-titled record and its follow-up Static. Despite the four-year detention, the hope of what Cults could and should be still remained in their loyal following. Offering was expected to be a building block, a step forward, yet another iteration added to the ever-diversifying and specializing machine that is Cults.
Instead though, Offering tends toward the most laggard, undynamic outputs of Cults. The production is mismanaged and inefficient. Overall, the album is a disappointment, a stab to the heart of loyal indie kids itching to realize the next incantation of Follin and Oblivion. Madeline Follin is actually the only bright spot on this sullen document, a fact that in itself necessitates grim thoughts of dismissal and disbandment. The overarching notion is that Follin would be best served to go at it alone, and pursue a solo career to best take advantage of her talents.
To be static would be better than this
“Go Outside”, “Abducted”, and “Always Forever” were all past standouts that found Cults dabbling in diverse, complex song structures. Their first two LP’s had a distinct personality and style while still allowing each song to form an individualized niche for itself. Offering on the other hand features a stunningly bland overlapping song base with only one song that is drastically different from the rest. Having songs that are arranged the same isn’t a bad thing by any means, but that song template that makes up the majority of the record is bland and repetitive itself.
“I Took Your Picture”, the second single off the record, is the poster child for congruity and mass production. The track begins with an oceanic, synth-driven pool of sound, followed by percussion that sounds a bit too far removed from the rest of the song. Then Madeline Follin’s sensual, reverb-soaked voice guides the song through the verses and empty choruses. This template is repeated nine more times. Again, this uniformity would have been easier to swallow if these songs were produced better, and were written with more personality and complexity.
All of the tracks on this record deal with issues of growing older; the oft-moonlighted motif of the aging millennial. None of the lyrics or instrumentation are bold enough or forward enough to form any sort of specific sentiment, resulting in ten tracks that are virtually the same.
That other track,”Right Words”, is Cults’s most bizarre and blatantly radio-friendly release. Unlike the song’s fellow offerings, “Right Words” hits the listener with a Follin-infused vocal section backed by instrumentation that would best be described as noncommittal. The piece wanders and flames out, making the 3:07 time marker seem much longer.
Separate, but unequal
Reverb has previously yielded some of the richest results for Cults. “Go Outside” was a charming, sunny output that was both mystifyingly beautiful and artful in its percussion. The mixers and producers were able to effectively identify songs that needed more reverb or less punctuated drums, resulting in some of the tightest and most unique cuts in the indie rock movement.
Offering however finds a gross misappropriation of reverb and percussive presence. “Good Religion” could very well have been one of the top cuts off of Offering. The vintage demeanor about the song is a never-before-explored region for the duo. Unfortunately, the over-reverberated tone of the song made the vintage and nostalgic sound fall to the background, hence lessening the impact and efficiency of the song. Conversely, “Recovery” needs more reverb. “Recovery” utilizes a piano and synthetic horns throughout the duration, and the little reverb that is enabled give the song a heavenly, whimsical feel. But the tragedy of “Recovery” is how good it could have been. More reverb would have juxtaposed nicely with the morose theme of the track and provided a nice backdrop for Follin’s heartfelt lyrics.
The most unfortunate reality about Offering is just how downtempo, and unready for the dance floor it is. “Walk At Night”, “Abducted” and “Were Before” were scintillating indie gems with the smoothest hint of EDM. These pairings made Cults’ music more accessible and certainly more interesting. Offering gives no such escapes to the dance floor, forcing the audience to stay lodged in a foggy glass-filled cube. Truthfully speaking, the lack of rhythm and tempo make the album drag and elongate. Percussives would have provided so much more personality to the nearly textureless album.
Madeline Follin still stands tall
With all of the previously mentioned shortcomings of Offering, what cannot be overlooked is the performance of the lead singer, Madeline Follin. Her voice is a simmering mixture of velvet, innocence, and yes, mischief. Her voice soars higher than the clouds that Cults basked in with some of their more dreamy past outputs. The overall dynamics that Follin demonstrates makes one think that the band is severely holding her back. “With My Eyes Closed” is Follin’s finest work on the album, a cornucopia of high notes and vocal valleys in sporadic succession. Even the inconsistent reverb couldn’t overshadow the abilities of the Manhattan native.
Even the more discrete assignments Follin’s voice takes on are done to noteworthy effectiveness. The title track “Offering” features few moments of vocal dynamics, but Follin’s voice is able to gorgeously blend with the backing instrumentation while still remaining discernible and multi-dimensional. She’s able to deliver the emotion and lyrics perfectly while still letting the synths and drums do what they do.
Recommended if you like:
Best Coast – Fade Away
Beach House – Depression Cherry
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Featured image from Consequence of Sound
The much-anticipated third LP by Cults was supposed to be a step forward, even an arrival for the band. Sadly though, the monotonous song arrangements and production make it seem like the original spark that the band once had has fizzled out to only memories and what-ifs. A bittersweet realization upon listening is just how talented lead singer Madeline Follin actually is, so talented in fact that one thinks that she would be better off in a band that better supports her.