Cult of Youth
Sacred Bones Records, 2011
Imagine the absolute apogee of New Wave – infectious drumming, driving bass, tortured vocals, frenetic guitars. Cross that with the best of punk – passion, spirit, aggressive, in-your-face resolve. Bind up the mixture with the pathos, magic, and vulnerable honesty of folk music. Result: Cult of Youth.
With this eponymous album Cult of Youth have raised the bar for their neofolk compadres exponentially; at the same time, they make Joy Division sound like fumbling oafs (and that’s coming from someone who really likes Joy Division).
Let’s start from the ground up. The rhythm section of this band is utterly phenomenal. The drums and bass are just hot. They hammer home with grooves that seize you by the spine and set you writhing. They’re like a nuclear propulsion unit, and every song, be it slower and introspective or upbeat and pushing, is carried along by truly visceral groove.
Against that we find machine-gun guitar work, be it electric or acoustic, and woven through the kick-ass momentum of the music is ethereal violin, and synth that manages to be self-mocking and exquisite all at once.
The cherry on top, the apple in the pig’s mouth: frontman Sean Ragon’s vocals, wild and unkempt, unrefined passion and spirit and overflowing will to live, and thrive, and grow, and become. This man pumps out so much energy with every word that his rhythm section need to be so good, else they’d never keep up!
Cult of Youth’s songs are dark, uplifting, almost comedic. Deeply personal, elliptical, obscure, obvious. Alchemical, psychological, playful. Profoundly positive and optimistic, in the way that only those who have walked in darkness can be.
Every turn of phrase cuts to the quick; every artful shift of arrangement or sudden turnaround a delight to the ears. How they manage to be so emotionally raw and yet utterly polished all at once I cannot say; it’s a brilliant feat.
Whether delving into psych-folk head-trips, wild western digressions, or good old foot-stomping punk anthems, Cult of Youth are always in total control – and yet always feel on the very brim of total chaos. These guys are an unstoppable juggernaut.
It is only February, but I already know this is going to be one of my very, very favourite releases of the year.