Scenario: you form a band with your significant other. You write some songs and make a record. You get famous, and your band travels the world. Then you break up.
What are your options? You can either a) break up the band along with the relationship; or b) keep the band together and use the breakup as material to write another record.
Thankfully for fans, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion (the duo behind noisy indie-pop duo Cults) chose the second option; they broke up last year but chose to lean into their breakup to write their sophomore album Static.
Now, heaven knows this isn’t always possible (another male-female duo, The Civil Wars, were never even an item, and they apparently can’t be in the same room together anymore). But despite whatever emotional obstacles the duo faced in staying together, and writing together—from an artistic standpoint, this was the best choice they could have made. While there’s not a huge difference in the music between the first and second albums—it’s still an interesting blend of 60’s pop and twenty-teens noise effects—Static reflects a deeper level of emotion and maturity compared to Cults’ self-titled debut.
Considering the subject matter, this album understandably takes a slightly darker tone than the first, more dramatic, more melancholy. That’s saying something, considering the nature of the style of music they’ve adopted is so highly effected that it can be difficult to hear the emotion behind it. In fact, Fallin’s bright-pitched vocals are so reverb-heavy behind the noise that you can easily venture several songs into the album before you realize she’s lamenting. But listen closely to the lyrics (it’s a challenge to hear them), and you’ll actually pick up evidence of the stages of grief as the pair process what has happened between them. “Always Forever” seems like pure denial (“You know you’ve got me in your pocket…just come here and we can settle down”); “High Road” voices expressions of regret with a tinge of bargaining (“Should have taken the high road / Now it’s such a long way back”); and acceptance of the inevitable is apparent in lines like “You can’t fix that” (in “Were Before”) and “No hope for me now, and I’m better off that way” (in “No Hope”).
As for anger? It’s there—simmering throughout the album, and occasionally surfacing in snaps like “I wonder how you sleep at night” and “Don’t expect me to share my love with you.” As the former couple struggle to become two separate persons again, you can hear deeper levels of remorse, regret and pathos as the album progresses. It’s poignantly bitter, occasionally hopeful—and remarkably honest.
And so, for now, Cults is still a thing, even if Fallin and Oblivion are not. Additionally, instead of simply trying to keep up appearances and “make things work” as a duo, they dug deep into their emotions to create Static, an album that honestly represents their struggle. The end result is that they’ve obviously grown as musicians. Regardless of where they go from here—you have to respect them for that.