Cults – Host
Ever since their sinister breakthrough single of 2011, Go Outside, Cults have mixed candyfloss-sweet vocals with dark imagery and lyrics to disturbing effect. The video for Go Outside superimposes the band members onto footage taken from Jonestown in Guyana, before the cult ended in horrific mass murder/suicide. The mixture of a jaunty little xylophone riff and an indecently catchy vocal with such dark subject matter is troubling in its cognitive dissonance. It was a hit and they were signed to Lily Allen’s now defunct label In the Name Of for the release of their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album.
The New York duo is now on its fourth full-length studio album. This record is the first on which singer and multi-instrumentalist Madeline Follin introduces her own songs, explaining she’d never brought her music to the table before as she was too shy. Producer Shane Stoneback asked to hear her work and it precipitated a re-imagining of their sound and dynamic, with additional multi-instrumentalist Brian Oblivion. This is the first album they have recorded with live instruments and it gives new depth and texture to their sound.
Host addresses the parasitic nature of toxic relationships and charts a cathartic journey towards freedom. Follin says that “Each song on the album feels like it is describing a different step towards breaking free from whatever’s draining you, to a position where you can accept something new and healthy into your life.” What’s impressive is that the listener can really hear that in the musical and lyrical arc of the album.
Lead single Spit You Out describes a parasitic dynamic: “A host doesn’t want you to feel / But it doesn’t see / Devotion making you weak / While they grow strong.” The multi-faceted development of the song hears a Radiohead-esque doorbell-like opener growing into an insistent electronic groove. Its visceral lyrics are delivered in the trademark saccharine way.
A Low’s chorus owes much to 1963’s I Will Follow Him by Peggy March, but with lyrics like “I hit the bottom / I’ve got no one to talk to / Days were a problem / Guess in a way/ The nights were too” it’s not as buoyant as its tune would suggest.
Like I Do hears Follin using different shades of her voice — a seductive whisper over the future-disco sounding track. Honest Love is another highlight: its spare percussion with a slight reverb is catchy. The final two songs, Shoulders to My Feet and Monolithic, really do feel cathartic, managing to convey both a sense of resolution and an uplifting optimism. The whole is accomplished and beautiful.
Like their namesake social phenomena, Cults’ music is creepily insistent but also strangely fascinating.
Host is released on 18th September 2020. For further information or to order the album visit Cults’s website here.
Watch the video for the single here: