Cult Choir, based out of Portland, Oregon, is a hard band to put a definitive thumb on. The band’s most recent release, Fantasy 6, drips with nostalgic prettiness and sweetness, but recedes into darkness without any fair warning. The band self-labels as “Goth Doo-Wop,” a descriptor which I believe is quite fitting, accurately capturing both the dark tortured 80’s INXS moments and the breezier, beachier throwback segments of sound.
The opening track “Hours” sets the mood with a paper-thin drum and guitar groove, embellished by some nicely concealed synths and reverb-y hormonal love howls. But the sweetness quickly curdles into a dark soliloquy called “Light,” accompanied by a jazzy guitar motif, the 6/8 feel reinforced only by some sparse finger snaps. Through a barrier of sophisticated musicality and a self-serious vibe, a considerable serving of quirk manages to escape through the cracks and float to the ceiling, especially evident in the acappella first half of track 4 (“Memories”). Cult Choir’s weirdness comes out full force on “Novi,” a track which distinctly reminds me of Boston freak-psych outfit Quilt with its synth drones and twangy guitars.
…paper-thin drum and guitar groove, embellished by some nicely concealed synths and reverb-y hormonal love howls.
“Cheated” is the track which, to my ear, most successfully steps out of the present tense and transports listeners to a different era of music entirely. The guitar strut figure which leads into the track could be a Buddy Holly/Roy Orbison era radio rip, until the track implodes into a downtempo art-rock fade out around the 1:30 mark. “Reach,” with its accordion dirge, sounds like it could have come from Zach Condon’s songbook in the most complementary terms possible (I know Beirut is a derogatory band of sorts to some), but is still a fresh take on the bygone “Old World, old time” obsession that was so popular 2007-2009.
Fantasy 6 is the kind of album that can brighten up a gray day, or blunt the radiant sunshine on a day you’re just not feeling it too hard (sad boiz unite!) But most importantly there are some fresh ideas here, despite the recycling and repetition of these concrete sounds and motifs. Cult Choir can move in a variety of directions for subsequent releases, and I’ll be keeping tabs on these fellahs.
Check em on bandcamp.