Music at Mars Hill: Light and Dark in Cults' Debut Album

Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.

Perhaps it is ironic to be discussing an album by a band called Cults on a Christian website. Or perhaps its not (after all, that’s what we’re all about here at Music at Mars Hill). Cults is a guy-girl duo out of Manhatten made up of lead singer Madeline Follin and multi-instrumentalist Brian Oblivion. Like a similar guy-girl duo, She & Him, Cults produce 1950s-inspired, three-minute pop tunes that are so sweet they will be sure to give you a mouthful of cavities if you’re not careful.

The sound of the band is led by the childlike voice of Madeline Follin, who sings bright and cheery melodies backed by bells, soft drums, and warm production. However, what makes these charming songs more than just a toothache is that Cults present an interesting interplay between light and dark in both the lyrics and the music of the album. In contrast to the summery vibes of the music, Follin often is singing about dark inner desires and doubts. On the track “You Know What I Mean”, Follin sings “‘Cause I am afraid of the light, yeah you know what I mean/And I can’t sleep at night, yeah you know what I mean”.

The most pronounced example of this light vs. dark struggle is in “Most Wanted”, where Follin sings a melody that could be straight out of a kids’ singalong, but spends her words claiming that “What I want most is bad for me I know” and even listing off flirtation, drug use, and adultery in a muffled voice at the end of the song. If this isn’t an honest reflection of the fallen human condition, I’m not sure what is.

We, as the human race, are constantly engaged in this struggle; light vs. dark, innocence vs. corruption, personal responsibility vs. personal desire. We live in the constant state of falling into temptation and sin, while simultaneously knowing that “what we want most is bad for us”. While Cults don’t always find themselves choosing light over dark, their debut album is a surprisingly honest look at the dichotomy between light and dark that is raging within all of us.

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  • Emma

    Great post! I fell in love with this band after watching their “Go Outside” video. Definitely worth checking out:

  • Alan Noble

    Luke, what about the fact that their band name is “Cults”? How do you reconcile that with your Christian faith?

  • Luke Larsen

    Emma, thanks! I love that video too!

    Alan, I definitely thought about this but I couldn’t find anything in their lyrics or music that really said anything about their sort of bizarre name. There are some interesting lyrics in the song “Oh My God” that seem to describe a movement against faith in God though that are definitely worth thinking about it.