Cult Of Youth - "Lace Up Your Boots" (Cult Of Youth)
Some bands make it a point to fuse unlikely combinations; others opt simply to sound like the music they like. In the latter camp, Cult of Youth play neo-folk; no one who has heard a single Death In June song will doubt the debt/homage/ripoff/who-cares leader Sean Ragon pays them, Sol Invictus, etc., on this self-titled record. The notion of transcending genre sounds so cliché — even undesirable to the musicians who write and play in genre — that one hesitates to praise a record with such a term. Nonetheless, creative intent and predecessors aside, this is a strong, appealing album that should find fans with all sorts of musical proclivities.
Another hackneyed way to describe a band: “they never let up.” And here again, Cult of Youth forces me into a corner. The opener “New West” fades in on a pounding drumbeat that escalates in volume, and from then on through the final shouts and synth chords of “Lace Up Your Boots,” Cult of Youth maintain a furious level of energy, all heavy toms and bright cymbals and crashing acoustic guitar strumming. They never lull, never wind down into dour breaks. Even the seven-minute “The Lamb,” which transitions from a beautiful pagan-liturgical chant to a wild swirling violin-synth-guitar breakdown, magically escalates in intensity.
Ragon’s vocals anchor the album, remaining compelling through the many ranges he deploys, from a bark to a howl to a bass that sounds like a more melodious Ian Curtis. And melody, more than anything, makes this album stand out — it’s lovely throughout its ferocity. The instrumental breaks on “Through the Fear” that have a trumpet harmonizing off Christina Key’s violin, rising together over the insistent guitar and crash, sound no less pretty and likely more affecting than anything on a strings-laden pop record. “Weary” would be a post-punk dance song with different instrumentation, given its structure and Ragon’s rapid sung delivery, but here it harks back to neo-folk’s origins in that scene, and is tremendously catchy.
I have no idea if “true” neo-folk fans would embrace Cult of Youth or if they would deride it the way titans of the internet rage over whether or not fellow Brooklynites Liturgy play “false metal.” Like Hunter Hunt-Hendrix of Liturgy, Ragon is technically gifted, writes and arranges capably, and is unabashed about finding the spiritual and emotional core of the style of music he has adopted. Whether or not this record leads a listener to (re)discover Nada!, it also sounds right for 2011: dark but not doom-and-gloom, folk but not psych. Should there be an onslaught of records with hand-drums, lyrics about Lorelei, and moody 19th century landscapes on their covers, Cult of Youth will likely still stand out, executed as it is with such skill and conviction.