I have a very distinct memory of listening to this very song one early morning late in 2011, in that burred season between late fall and early winter. I was re-listening to a handful of albums released that year, trying to nail down my inaugural best albums list for my old blog, Music Insanity. Cults’ self-titled debut was one of two debut albums that caught me by surprise and snuck its way into the running for 2011.
As track one slid into track two, I was standing at Bayview station awaiting the arrival of my commuter train to take me into work. It was so early it was still dark so I could clearly see the lightly falling snow glinting from the glow of the fluorescent light posts. I was shuffling my doc martens in the thinnest of coatings on the asphalt waiting platform, causing rivulets of feathered snow to amass around my feet. But then “Go outside” burst through my iPod earbuds in earnest and it was like the sun came out, warming me from outside and in, and it was as if summer had made a glorious return.
Okay. Yes. I am exaggerating but I am sure you are getting the point here.
Cults are a two-piece indie band from New York, made up of Madeline Follin on vocals and Brian Oblivion (sounds like a stage name to me) on vocals and everything else. When I first listened to the album, I thought to myself: “These two make no attempt to hide their love for shimmering, sunny 60s pop”. Madeline’s vocals are so light, almost to the point of child-like, that it’s unbelievably shocking when she drops the F-bomb at the end of one of the album’s tracks. And that’s probably the point. The music that backs her is washed and filled with effects, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to tell the different instruments apart.
“Go outside” is still incidentally my favourite track on the album but it is by no means an aberration. It is a seemingly light and fluffy song about going outside to enjoy life outdoors but if you listen a bit closer, you can discern soundbite samples of cult leader Jim Jones. Adding another layer of sinister is the video’s use of archive news footage from Jonestown. Indeed, the song seems to be employing, much like throughout the rest of the album, a theatrical technique I learned in high school drama class when studying Bertolt Brecht: namely, disguising that dark subject matter behind the cheery veneer of the music. If you’ve ever listened to the lyrics of “Mack the Knife” (by Brecht, not Cults), you know what I mean.
But before I start getting highbrow or anything, I’m going to drop the mic right there and allow the song to speak for itself. Enjoy.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.