Arts, Music, Review

Cults Try to Redefine Sound on ‘Host’ to No Avail

When a band sets out to redesign its sound, it is always a major risk. It takes its proven formula for success and sets it aside to work on something new. A lot of bands fall flat on their faces when they go this route. Sadly, Cults seem to have joined this unfortunate group of bands. While Cults’ fourth album, Host, is not a total flop, it isn’t as revolutionary as the band clearly hoped it would be.

Broadly speaking, Host seems to be about a toxic relationship, but this theme flits in and out of the album’s lyrics. The band’s intentions are clear for the first half of Host, but later on, the album very quickly loses focus and seems to only throw in the occasional cursory line. The second half of the album is overproduced and a slog to get through. It’s a shame that a large part of the album feels like such a chore, because the 41-minute runtime doesn’t allow for many songs.

“Trials” is admittedly a solid opening. It includes Cults’ signature dreamy pop sound and the themes of toxicity that the album attempts to deal with. All four of the leading singles are equally solid, and “Trials” definitely doesn’t fumble. It’s one of the better tracks on the album, and the continuation of the sound onto the second track, “8th Avenue,” leads to a strong introduction.

The first real crack in Host comes with “A Low.” The track feels overproduced to the point where the first few seconds are actually painful to listen to. Vocalist Madeline Follin’s voice sounds pitched up in the opening, and bizarrely, this pitch is repeated several times throughout the song. The lyrics are also much simpler than the song’s predecessors, and this feels like the first track to forget that the album is supposed to be about relationships. The titular low might refer to a toxic partner, but in general, the lyrics are much more bare-bones than the previous tracks. Sentences are thrown out in favor of simply repeating the name of the song 20 times, and the lyrics that aren’t “a low” just aren’t very memorable.

“Like I Do” is the only truly awful song on the album. The song makes a name for itself with a heavy, repetitive beat that never evolves and only grows more obnoxious. In contrast, the vocals are almost too quiet to hear, and unfortunately, the lyrics don’t really merit being heard. The nonsense phrase “’Cause I sweep” is repeated four times, and the line “Leave it all to me, I’ll misguide you” feels out of place on an album supposedly about being manipulated. This track leaves the listener begging for the song to end if they haven’t already skipped it.

What really drags Host down in the long run is the fact that the best of its sound and lyrics have been done before by other artists and bands. If someone is looking for an atmospheric and dreamy indie pop album about toxic relationships, they should check out Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher, which feels infinitely more fleshed out and consistent. It’s a shame, because only one or two tracks on Host are really all that bad, but many of them feel half-baked and unremarkable. A few of these underdeveloped tracks are then overproduced to give the illusion of depth. Host might have been better off as an EP that includes only six or so of the best tracks, so that it wouldn’t have had to stretch itself so much and live up to being the fourth album of a fairly well-regarded band. There are good ideas on this album, but its main problem is that it’s stretched too thin.

Featured image courtesy Sinderlyn

September 21, 2020