Cults Make An Offering of Sonic Bliss in Houston

 Photo: Shawn Brackbill, courtesy of Grandstand Media.

Photo: Shawn Brackbill, courtesy of Grandstand Media.

    As someone who was raised in an old school rock and tejano household and sticking to mostly metal and punk throughout my teens, my taste for any genre that can have the word "indie" thrown in front of it is one that had to be acquired and slowly expanded over some recent years. However, this is now an era where bands like Warpaint and artists like Grimes are among some of my all-time favorites, and exploring the more modern side of music under the indie-alternative umbrella has become something that'll probably never get old to me. Now, what I've learned about this world is that it can be saturated with bands who pay more attention to aesthetics than they do their sound; there's no shortage of the the guy/girl combo who just turn up the reverb and have a name made up of some random one or two syllable word. And that's cool, the look is ever part of the culture, but giving a real shit about the product is what will ensure it's immortally and it's clear that the Manhattan born band Cults, who reside on the corner of indie-rock and synth-pop, make sure they know it. Their latest and long-awaited entry to their catalogue, aptly titled Offering, establish them as genre standouts capable of evolving their own unique flavor of sound, one I committed myself to discovering in anticipation of their arrival to White Oak Music Hall's ever intimate upstairs stage.

    While some indie scenes are prevalent to the point of notoriety in cities like New York and LA, it takes a band like Cults to draw people from the woodwork and remind me that Houston also has one, alive and well, as a healthy crowd of mostly twenty-somethings with good minds for fashion steadily trickled into the small, easily packed room on a chilly Monday night. Houston's own Deep Cuts, who were honored with chaperoning the headliners during their stint here in Texas, opened the show and set the mood. Props to them; despite being on my radar for a while, this was the first time I'd be seeing them live and I can only regret that it's taken me so long. Their knack for song-building had me warming up to them quickly, each item in their modest six song set starting off slow or soft but then swelling layer by layer into groove heavy jams embellished by careful saxophone melodies and sometimes bridged over by well-crafted soundscapes. Any local indie fans looking for something a little more homegrown (or just fans of music in general for that matter) would do well by visiting their site, here, to discover more or by catching their set in the upcoming Day For Night Festival.

    Before long, and after a set by Montreal's art-pop duo She-Devils, the stage darkened; the main event had arrived at the top of the ten o'clock hour, as promised by the set-times posted outside on the box office window. Amid excited cheers from ready fans, a quintet of musicians sauntered onstage led by Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion. Although the duo are the only two official members of Cults, a project they started on their own in college, they know better than to undertake the task of bringing their vibrant songs to life without the help of a live band.  With Gabriel Rodriguez on guitar, Cory Stier on drums, and Max Kamins on bass, Oblivion was able to focus on the bands trademark haze-tinged synths and sounds while vocalist Follin took the helm, center stage, doing what she was born to do. They opened up with the first song on their new album, which bears it's namesake, Offering: a mid-tempo entry that wastes little time introducing listeners to Cults' retro synth-pop lore and is not without a layer of polish they’ve clearly picked up during their recent four year absence. Follin danced a slow and perpetual hip-sway, teasing the crowd with sullen low volume verses before showing off her signature girlish, yet powerful voice in the catchy chorus and reminding fans of her affinity for vocal melody. There'd be no Cults without her; deep and layered as their sound is, Madeline brings forward a unique vocal element that, without care, threatens to takeover whether it be live or in the studio. The fact that their product shines as a single unit showcases a maturity beyond the bands years, and I couldn't help but lend myself to the dreamscapes they painted in my head that night.

    Between songs, they took time to express gratitude, trade friendly banter with the more vocal show-goers, and hype up the crowd (Oblivion even giving props to the Astros which was met with victorious war-cries fit for the MLB champs). Otherwise, Cult's was a host of sights and sounds, Follin often shutting her eyes in concentration as she moved flawlessly over her wide range of vocals, Oblivion a mad scientist behind his keys and sample boards, and the entire stage awash in stunning visuals made by a projector in the back. They played as if to meet the void head on, covering tracks like Abducted, I Took Your Picture, Right Words, High Road, and Gilded Lily in a setlist of songs that were equal parts old and new. The crowd was clearly a savvy one as no song was without cheers indicative of recognition and some measure of folks singing along. Something that I appreciated that I don't often hear in their produced work was the way drummer Cory Stier utilized his crash ride to create a resonant splash effect over many of the songs that fit well into Cults' introspective brand of sound. With only the trance inducing metronome of Follin's swaying the only reminder that time still existed in the realm Cults likes to create, it seemed almost too soon before the band had walked off the stage and back again to close the show with a customary encore. They ended it with their first ever breakout single, Go Outside, to pay homage to their roots while simultaneously sparing a nod to the long journey this band has made. This was definitely one of the best shows I've seen on WOMH's smaller stage and I’m lucky to have snagged this setlist as a memento to remind me how Cults definitely a discovery I’m happy to have made this year. 

Julian Lara

A writer, local podcaster, and journalist from Houston, TX. Co-founder/co-host/lead editor for Dead Dialect, I like to kill time with video games, live music, bars, and being an MMA nerd.