It’s difficult to think of an indie-rock act more precious or sugary-sweet than Cults, the young New York duo of Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin. Had the songwriting not been so strong on their self-titled debut — which they released after being signed to Columbia while still enrolled at NYU, and dating each other — you might have confused it for very high-quality children’s retro-pop record. In the time that’s passed between their first full-length and Static, Oblivion and Follin severed their romantic ties — a potentially perfect catalyst for something a little more gut-punching, right?
Well, sort of. For better or worse, Cults haven’t been able to shed the swooning hallmarks of their music, largely because of the syrup-sweet nature of Follin’s vocals. But they have, with the help of go-to producer/mixer Ben Allen (who’s worked with the likes of Deerhunter and Animal Collective), successfully added nuance, spinning some of the friction of their dissolving relationship onto record. Follin is often crooning behind reverb and ambience, Oblivion’s guitars wobbling back and forth. The effect is occasionally distracting, but mostly — like on the kick-drum anthem “Keep Your Head Up” — it offers a welcome window into the strains and complexities of the duo’s relationship.