CULTS: The Noir Side of Indie Pop

Article Contributed by Angela Gattuso | Published on Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and David Koresh typically represent the idea of cults in America. Among the indie scene however, the word “cult” is gradually making an association with pop vocals and keyboard melodies entrenched in a darker noise rock thanks to the New York group, CULTS. Known for their song, “Go Outside,” the group showed Boulder that live and on stage their music falls more within the realm of indie pop/noise rock, performing with a weight that far exceeded CULTS’ more pop, do-it-yourself recorded sound.

Started and fronted by Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, CULTS does maintain that indie pop sound as they uphold the male/female dynamic with Follin’s high pitched vocals alongside Oblivion’s accompanying keyboard. As seemingly simple and somewhat repetitive as this music sounds on their 2011 self-titled debut album, it’s what gave Follin and Oblivion their fame. Two years after “Go Outside” landed CULTS a record label with In the Name Of/Columbia and Forest Family Records, they’re now touring--to their benefit--with a full band. Follin and Oblivion remain the focus of the group while the rest of the members should lest not be forgotten, as it is in their contributions that CULTS’ live sound gains a thickness that rules superior to the work Follin and Oblivion did as a duo.

Follin’s distinct female vocals and the keyboard, played alternately by Oblivion and an added second keyboard/guitar player, are all that held onto CULTS’ pop sound, while coupling drums and bass made for a throbbing, loud density that pushed the sound of CULTS beyond that of its birth into a darker noise rock realm. While in the beginning Oblivion did play both keyboard and guitar (and he remains to do so), the addition a second keyboard/guitar player also seems to give Oblivion more freedom as a guitarist while further adding layers of texture. Surrounded now by two guitars, and more prominently so by the booming, trembling bass of the drums and the bass itself, Follin’s high but quieter vocals were on the verge of being washed out. They balanced perfectly on that border though, teetering on the side of that pop vocals sound while staying just on the edge of being consumed by the thick organized noise.

Building a wall against which the floating vocals and keyboard were withheld, the noise rock aspect of CULTS’ show gave a backing and lift that fills the band’s sound out and gives a better sense of firmness in their music while not in the least appearing to turn any of their audience away. By no means was the Fox Theatre brimming to its limit, but when up front packed between the dancing bodies of the high school and college indie kids, it felt like the whole venue was loaded and dancing just as hard and with the same excitement and fun as those fans right before the stage.

Up front with the kids drinking pocket shooters or in the back where the rest of the crowd gathered comfortably with a full vision of the stage, the light show and video backdrop were a nice treat outside of the music that nonetheless visually reinforced the darker sound and look of the band. Various simple black and white patterns of light washed over the band while behind the drum-set video clips and animations were projected--also in black and white--onto a backdrop that covered the entire back of the stage. The band members themselves carried on this two-tone image, Follin and Oblivion again standing at the forefront with Oblivion in black jeans and a black skinny tie, his long greasy hair hanging over his face, and Follin in a black dress with laced sleeves and black eyeliner accented with red lips. Aside from the bits of blue, red, and yellow light, the majority of CULTS set, visually, was in black and white, reinforcing the unexpected yet greatly pleasant darker sound of indie pop that the group came to represent from the first song to the final bass drop.