Essential New Music: Cults’ “Offering”

Cults’ 2011 debut was a bracing cross-pollination of early-’60s girl-group sass and arty New York cool. The duo of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion put their own spin on a tried-and-true revivalist concept: Cults was less menacing than the Raveonettes but less detached than El Perro del Mar, and managed to be both a clever novelty (sampling cult leader Jim Jones was almost too perfect) and a pop-friendly confection. At the time, Follin and Oblivion were a couple offstage as well as on. But they had broken up by the time of 2013’s Static, which offered slight refinements on the retro riffs while gaining depth from the friction between the effervescent melodies and the disillusioned lyrics.

Offering is something else entirely. After a self-imposed hiatus, Cults have stopped poring over their collection of Phil Spector, Lesley Gore and Shangri-Las records. The allusions that were once overt are now opaque. The vintage guitar riffs are nearly absent; in their place are keyboards, often with a new-wave tinge. Cults followers, if they squint, will find trace elements of the girl-group sound in the dense backing vocals of “Gilded Lily” and “Natural State,” in the stately pace of “With My Eyes Closed” and in the general propensity for wall-of-sound production, but if what they want is blatant retromania, they may be disappointed.

If Follin and Oblivion had made a third album in the same vein as their first two, they’d risk pastiche. Offering finds the band retooling its sound, and a few songs meander. But at its best—on the vibrant, assertive title track, on the buzzy, fizzy “Recovery,” on the swaying, bittersweet “Good Religion”—it rivals Cults’ revivalist previous offerings.

—Steve Klinge