Cult of Youth – Cult of Youth (Music Review)

Cult of Youth cover

Cult of Youth – Cult of Youth

Cult of Youth can write some pretty good songs when they put their mind to it. Just listen to “New West”, the first track on their self-titled debut. Between Sean Ragon’s charismatic pronouncements and the purposeful, driven music, this sounds like the theme for a gothic Sergio Leone feature. In fact, the goodwill from that song carried me through the rest of the album the the first time I heard it. It took me several listens to accept that they didn’t have much to offer after that track ended.

The lyrics of “New West” play perfectly to Ragon’s own limitations. Its vaguely-defined protagonist and lack of resolution paint a picture of some archetypal Man With No Name striding through the frontier. But in the other songs, it’s just frustrating that the ideas lack a firm grounding and then fail to go anywhere. (For example, “Monsters” is some sort of parable about a man who is warned there are monsters in the world, but is then killed by them anyways. “Weary” describes a wandering woman cast out from society, but the refrain contradicts that by claiming “we are not weary” for no obvious reason.) In fact, I spent some time trying to figure out if this whole album was tied together by a theme that “New West” introduced. Everything may have the same cinematic bombast and slippery lack of meaning, but they turn out to have no connection beyond that.

The other problem is that the band doesn’t always seem to be trying very hard. They have the goth-folk formula down pat, with as much reverb as possible applied to semi-acoustic music, and a deep-voiced man soulfully but forcefully singing about the pains of the world. At times, it works well. Other times, it sounds like they barely showed up to the studio with a full song, and just assumed that their producer would turn up the bass and slather angst over everything for them.

It’s frustrating, because Cult of Youth has a sound that works for them and occasionally finds songs worthy of it. But for every compelling line, there are several that sound like they were grabbed at random from an angry high-schooler’s book of poems, and the band only comes up with a few interesting arrangements throughout the album. Cult of Youth could be pared down to create a good EP, but there’s no indication that those highlights define the direction the band wants to go in. They sound pretty comfortable on the songs that don’t go anywhere.

Grade: C

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