Cults members Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion may have ended their romantic relationship prior to recording their second album, Static, but, thankfully, their sound remains unified. While the album lacks a surefire gem like “Go Outside,” from the band’s 2011 self-titled debut, its songs are more consistent in overall quality, featuring a slew of catchy hooks and elevated production values. Cults’ music continues to draw inspiration from 1960s pop, but the duo has begun to move away from the overly sweet-sounding melodies of Cults and dip into a gloomier aesthetic.
After the slow-burning opener “I Know,” with its lumbering, reverberating guitar lines and piercing vocals, “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” swoops in to inject a sense of urgency into the proceedings, a remarkably uplifting change in tempo, with the band going just about as punk-rock as they can without forsaking their signature candy-coated harmonies. Throughout Static, a tangible frustration can be heard in Follin’s voice. The honeyed ballad “Always Forever” acts as a last-ditch effort to convince a lover to stay, even when both parties realize the affair is unsalvageable. “High Road” is quite the opposite, a song about accepting loss and moving onward, even as the grip of regret tightens. Whereas Cults’ debut was more carefree in its breezy melodies, Static has a heavier heart, presenting a band with not only a better understanding of their music, but of each other as human beings.
The album loses a bit of steam on songs like “So Far” and “Keep Your Head Up,” the latter of which suffers from its excessively whiny chorus, with a crestfallen Follin throwing somewhat of a hissy fit. “Don’t expect me to share my love with you,” she declares, as a cacophony of thumping percussion and shoegaze-esque instrumentation swells up behind her. It’s one of the few moments on the album that feels overdone, abandoning the low-key approach that’s so successful elsewhere on the album. And the wintry closer “No Hope” is a sad but oddly optimistic epilogue: “The sun was bright, it never shined/I know you’re mine, but I still cry,” Follin croons. She’s surrounded by sweetness and light, but can’t seem to fully alleviate her internal woes. Static, then, is an appropriate title for this collection of soundscapes, staying frozen somewhere between bright and blurry, warm and cold, recognizing that oftentimes not withdrawing so quickly from grief is the best kind of emotional action.