Case in point – New York indie pop duo Cults. The group, consisting of singer/lyricist Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion on guitar, revealed they had ended their real-life romantic relationship after the release of their 2011 debut album.
Cults’ sophomore album, Static, is an earnest documentation of the deterioration of that relationship.
Given the fact that countless musicians have attempted to capture sonically the emotional struggle one endures while weathering the storm of a particularly nasty breakup – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Adele’s 21, and Sea Change by Beck all come to mind – one cannot claim Static is, thematically, entirely original.
However, despite the overabundance of breakup songs in American pop music, the universal themes of a broken heart – the loss and betrayal of love – are so powerfully relatable, it’s hard to knock Cults for tackling the subject – especially considering their familiarity with it.
The album opens with the hazy sounds of dream pop as Follin’s child-like voice, imbued with melancholy, sings to herself that she “knows,” as the sad twang of an electric guitar cuts through the foggy cloud of reverb which is omnipresent throughout all 11 tracks. Whether she “knows” her relationship is dead, or “knows” her partner has been less than faithful, “I Know” makes for a gorgeously honest start to the album.
The navel-gazing doesn’t last for long though, as the second track, “I Can Hardly Make You Mine,” roars out of the gate with a deliciously groovy bass line and thunderous classic rock drumming. “I don’t think I can make it / And I know you’re the one / Staring into the tears like a loaded gun,” Follin belts out.
The back and forth emotions one feels after a breakup, the oscillation between hatred for an ex as well as desperately wanting them back, are on full display on Static.
Follin, on “Always Forever,” is sanguine about the relationship’s future, singing, “You know you’ve got me in your pocket / You know I’ll keep you in my locket / Just come here and we can settle down.”
In stark contrast stands “We’ve Got It,” a Supremes-influenced song of obsession and possession, where Follin reveals, “There is no one else for me but you / There is only you, my love.”
Each song on Static is a rumination on the various effects a relationship’s end has on a person. She directs her anger pointedly at her cheating partner on “So Far,” where she sings, “And I wonder how you sleep at night.” There are moments, particularly on “Were Before,” where Follin is overly nostalgic for the way things once were. Follin seems to begrudgingly accept the irrevocable end to her relationship on the closing track “No Hope.”
Static is not always preoccupied with the powerlessness one feels from the loss of a lover, as Follin shows perseverance in the face of heartbreak, singing, “Gotta keep your head up / Gotta keep your feet down,” on the anthemic chorus of “Keep Your Head Up.”
Fortunately for listeners, Cults’ trademark sound – an airy intoxicating concoction of lo-fi, shoegaze and ‘60s pop – prevents Static from collapsing in on itself, despite the heaviness of the album’s mood.
Cult’s latest, which may one day appear in the annals of great pop-rock breakup albums, successfully tells the tale of how the powerful connection shared between two lovers can become lost or distorted like a radio signal stuck between stations, and how the subsequent static of loss threatened to consume them.