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The duo of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, Cults’ twinkling experimental pop combines gauzy sounds with moods that hit surprisingly hard. On their 2010 breakthrough “Go Outside,” dream pop haze and ’60s girl group harmonies provided the perfect backdrop for Follin’s sweetly empathetic vocals, creating the template for Cults’ sound. On the albums that followed, the duo gave different nuances to this style. They added Technicolor vibrancy to 2011′s Cults; darkness that echoed the end of their romantic relationship on 2013′s Static; and a streamlined approach that reflected the electro-pop purveyors that sprang up in their wake on 2017′s Offering. On this album and 2020′s Host, Follin’s growing creative input reinforced the delicate yet enduring appeal of Cults’ music.
Cults formed in 2010, when native San Franciscans Follin and Oblivion were attending school in New York City (Oblivion was a documentary film student at NYU; Follin was studying at the New School). A couple at the time, they wrote and recorded songs in Oblivion’s apartment using a computer and a cheap midi keyboard, and before the year was over, they released their self-titled debut EP on Forest Family Records. One of the EP’s songs, “Go Outside,” which Cults recorded with Paul Kostabi at Thunderdome Studios, became a viral hit, earning acclaim from publications including Pitchfork and NME.
Cults built on the success of “Go Outside” by touring with Richie Follin's Band (the project of Madeline’s older brother) for six months. They then signed to In the Name Of, an imprint of Columbia Records founded by Lily Allen. Produced by Shane Stoneback, Cults’ June 2011 self-titled album delivered more of their atmospheric, retro-futuristic indie pop and charted in the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., reaching number 52 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart. That year, the duo also appeared on the AIDS/HIV research benefit album Red Hot+Rio 2, collaborating with Superhuman Happiness on a cover of “Um Canto de Afoxé para o Bloco Do Ilê.” Along with touring in support of the album, Cults also appeared at the Portishead-curated ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror festival that September and at ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas festival, which was curated by Battles, that December.
In October 2013, Cults returned with their second album, Static. Recorded with Stoneback in the wake of Follin and Oblivion’s breakup, it won strong reviews for its emotive songwriting and peaked at number 114 on the Billboard Top 200. That month, the duo also appeared with Amber Coffman on J. Cole’s “She Knows” from his album Born Sinner; the song hit number 90 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. Following the 2014 single “Being It,” Cults took some time off. In 2016, Follin formed the group Follin with her brother Richie, and released the single “Roxy” that February.
For their next album, Cults took a more collaborative approach, with Follin playing drums and keyboards as well as singing. After working with Stoneback in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco studios, Cults emerged in October 2017 with Offering, which borrowed from influences as wide-ranging as Pink Floyd, Gary Numan, and the Motels, whose music they’d fallen in love with while touring with Total Control in Australia. They explored their passion for the Motels further in 2018 with a track-by-track cover of the band’s 1979 self-titled debut that was part of Turntable Kitchen’s Sounds Delicious series. The following year saw the release of Offering B Sides & Remixes, which featured reworkings of the album’s tracks by Mike Simonetti, Etienne de Crecy, and John Fryer.
Cults began work on their next album in early 2019, teaming with Stoneback on songs that, for the first time, featured live instrumentation and included lyrics by Follin. Mixed by John Congleton and mastered by Heba Kadry, Host appeared in September 2020 and tackled themes of identity and independence. ~ Heather Phares