Static opener I Know has kind of an Electric Light Orchestra meets Angelo Badalamenti vibe (it sounds like “Strange Magic” as performed from the Black Lodge); it sets the theme, if not the pace, for the rest of Cults’ second album. That is to say, regurgitations of standard fare with some unsettling atmospheric twists. Cults seem to be on a mission to make low-maintenance guitar pop as gorey and weird as possible; they’re fairly successful.
So the question is: why am I kind of bored?
Cults schew the misguided attempts at subversion of other “indie rock” groups in favor of a full-on pop approach to songwriting. The production on Static is mesmerisingly low key; “Always Forever” sounds like it could have been mixed and processed in the very smartphone you’re listening to it on, but the pared back nature of the recording lends even the most jarring moments a soft intimacy. Each guitar flutter or synthetic emergence has more oomph than it otherwise would, occupying distal space conventionally reserved for reverbs and delays. Static provides some minor excitements in the mere fact of just keeping you waiting to hear where the next sound will come from, and where it might end up.
Static is an album of tracks that could compositionally be seen as flirting with pop beauty, but they’re presented in a way that distorts and modifies this. “High Road” sounds a lot like something Twin Sister might have released on their debut LP, and Twin Sister’s glistening production may actually meet its match as far as Cults’ direct-for-the-jugular melodic hooks are concerned. As with Cults, Static has a tendency to drag you into some murky, overwrought territories, such as the dramatic string sections and terrible organ tones on “Were Before” (“We’ve Got It” makes much better use of some orchestral arrangements). Standout tracks like “So Far” tend to justify the existence of their slightly less palatable brethren, but you get a pretty good sense of the idea that Static’s worst moments have a “there but for the grace of god go we” relationship with its best ones.
Static isn’t so much shaky or uneven as it is precarious; its successes sometimes seem almost too accidental to be enjoyable. The analogue would be like listening to a Throbbing Gristle record because for some reason it reminds you of Britney Spears; maybe you could say that you like 40 Jazz Funk Greats, but it’d probably not be for the right reasons, or at least your experience of the record wouldn’t really align with Throbbing Gristle’s aesthetic intent. But enough about Throbbing Gristle. Static is a listen of minimal, but positive returns, as it’s a record that happens to requires very little effort as well. Cults’ brand of guitar pop may not be particularly inventive, nor their humble delivery more than occasionally charming, but Static is, at heart, a collection of some very enjoyable pop songs. And, yes, some unenjoyable ones.