Out of the shadows

Pub date April 12, 2011


MUSIC The Cults out of the bag.

The initial mystery surrounding the Brooklyn band of two has been solved, as rumors turned into a year of lengthy articles, photographs, and live performances, all soothing the flea-ridden hype. The official promise of a debut full-length this summer is sure to stimulate some additional excitement, but once again the information age has won and indie snoops are left with a furry clump of truth.

“There’s no real story behind us. We’re just real people,” explains Brian Oblivion, the male half of Cults. While it may seem like some rock stars are hiding wizard or robot identities, believe it or not, all musicians are indeed “just real people.” Oblivion attempts to elaborate on this idea, but he and girlfriend Madeline Follin, the female half of the band, are riding in a tour van through some sketchy airwaves. His voice keeps transforming into robotic and scratchy sounds, which makes his theory slightly suspicious.

But no — the Cults are neither lizard-people nor alien-forms. They’re not angry cult leaders or brainwashed followers for that matter. The Internet has explained it all and the facts are clearly posted: Oblivion and Follin are both 22, from San Diego, and going to film school in New York City.

Follin grew up swaddled in punk music, and Oblivion always had a thing for surf-rock, but when the two of them began their courtship, a musical agreement had to commence. Soul, ’50s pop, and ’60s girl-groups like Lesley Gore and the Shangri-Las became a pleasant middle ground. When the lovers began to play music together, their inspiration was a direct pipeline to these performers; musicians who could make lemons into limoncello and drape a lacy haze over any foggy day.

“There’s something so tough about ’50s pop music,” says Oblivion. He respects the genre’s mold-breaking ideas, from its social connotations and ability to blur race barriers to its physical elements, like new echo effects and guitar tones. “There’s lots of spirit in that music that gets written off as retro when new acts try to perform it. But there’s a sentiment in it that we like. It’s moving. There’s something special there.”

Music by Cults makes daisies grow and serious cares seem like spoonfuls of acid-laced sugar. Everything is sublime beneath Follin’s gorgeous bell-like vocals, even when she sings about naughty behaviors, crying, and shit relationships. And they’re not the only young band that has begun harnessing the Motown stallion. Best Coast is the most direct example, but groups like Warpaint and Dom have also turned rock back a few pages, spawning a fresh generation of ears ready to challenge the music industry’s current corporate-pop bill.

“Madeline has a theory about [the ’50s and ’60s pop revival],” Oblivion says. “We’re just old enough now to appreciate it. Our parents grew up listening to it because it was our grandparents’ style. But we’re the ones going back and rediscovering. Our parents are still into their ’80s Rolling Stones records. Our generation is excited because we’re digging in Dumpsters and finding these old records — and we’re finding this music without having it shoved in our faces.”

Like treasure chests buried beneath a sea of Rihannas, American Idols, and decades of rock, the serenades of brass instruments, cheery bass lines, hollow voices, and forlorn lyrics are bubbling up to the surface. It’s discovery and reacquainted love. Aging 40 years or more, these albums may be dusty and scratched, their performers long absent from daily gossip rags, yet there’s still some element of mystery that has regrown from the ashes of the era. That mystery makes for good hype, but as Cults have learned, you’ve got to come out of the shadows to make solid impressions.

“It’s fun to play live and interact with audiences. Live [music] is so important — it’s the only way to make money, and right now shows are doing awesome,” Oblivion says with his crackly, phone-impaired voice, noting his admiration for indie bands that are selling out large venues. He’s calling it a revolution.

“People want to have an experience, something to hold onto. They’re tired of the MP3s that move around through the air, because it’s just not the same as being at a show and feeling the music come out of the speakers. It’s immaterial. You walk away with a feeling.”

That feeling is the revolution.


With Magic Kids, White Arrows

Thurs./14, 8 p.m.; $13

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421