Cult Of Youth fucked up when they released Love Will Prevail while it was still warm outside. The Brooklyn outfit dropped their sophomore album in early September 2012, and I have a vivid memory of attempting to process its grand, dark, propulsive songs while walking my dog through beautifully hazy late-summer heat. This was the wrong context for Love Will Prevail, a heady and ritualistic punk album that seemed beamed in from some older, more brutal civilization. Now: Love Will Prevail does not need things like complementary weather to be a great album. It simply is a great album. But context matters. You know this if you’ve ever grilled out to slow-crawling Southern rap or braved packed stores full of Christmas shoppers while blasting misanthropic-howl black metal through your earbuds. (I highly recommend both of these activities.) So I’m happy to report that Cult Of Youth have figured certain things out. With their new Final Days, they’ve released a bleak and feral and heavy album about the world spinning apart, and they’ve done it at the exact moment when it starts to get dark before you get off work, thus fucking up your mood for a good month or so. (I could be projecting here.) And more importantly, they’ve become a better band since the last time they made an album. That matters, too.
Actually, it might be a bit inaccurate to say that Cult Of Youth have become a better band since releasing Love Will Prevail. It’s more that they’ve become a band. Up until now, frontman Sean Ragon has been the sole driving force of Cult Of Youth; it’s been a solo project in all but name. Final Days still sounds very much like it has one person in charge; it has a heft and sweep that feels like the product of a singular vision. But this is the first album that Cult Of Youth have recorded as a proper five-piece band — voice, guitar, bass, drums, cello. That makes a huge difference. Love Will Prevail sounded like an experimental, albeit successful stab at recreating the sound inside one person’s head. (In this case, that sound was something like “Renaissance Faire Joy Division.”) But Final Days is the work of musicians in a room together. It’s grander and more expansive and just generally better.
On a song like “Down The Moon,” from the new album, the band has a chance to actually groove. It’s not a stereotypical bar-band sort of groove, though. The drums sound like upside down buckets in a junkyard, the guitars slash and screech, and the cello helps develop a sense of building chaos. It gets louder and louder over its five minutes. Ragon lets about half that time go by before even letting his voice in, and when he does, he’s screaming, not intoning, which is what he used to do. Even when the music is relatively quiet, there’s an urgency in Ragon’s voice that wasn’t there before.
When “Empty Faction,” the album’s first single, hit the internet, I compared it to “what might’ve happened if Crass had attempted to sound like the Birthday Party back in 1983.” That aesthetic holds true on the rest of the album, but with wrinkles and caveats. “Sanctuary,” the nine-and-a-half minute penultimate track and general centerpiece, achieves a metallic majesty before it flames out. Other songs, like “Roses,” seem built from strummy campfire folk music, though they’re too stormy to soothe. It’s essentially the same style that Ragon was working on Love Will Prevail, but it’s more fleshed-out and pushed further into the red. He might still be the star here, but now he’s got a supporting cast that knows how to elevate him.
One of the things I really like about Final Days, and about Cult Of Youth in general, is that it doesn’t really belong to any scene or emerging sound that you can name. They’re a band with no real peer. There’s not a whole lot of context for an album like this one outside of “it’s colder outside now.” Wolf In White Van, the excellent novel from Mountain Goats leader John Darnielle, tells the story of a man who spent much of his adolescence inhaling Conan novels, both the Robert E. Howard originals and the knockoffs that came after Howard’s death. He’s such a fan, in fact, that he answers ads in the back of fantasy magazines, ordering home-recorded cassettes from bands who were so similarly obsessed with Conan that they dedicated entire albums to him. Darnielle doesn’t waste a whole lot of time telling us how these tapes sounded; he lets the idea of them resonate in our own brains instead. More than anything being made right now, Final Days sounds, to me, the way I imagine one of those tapes sounding. It’s the sound of one man, rounding up his friends and setting them to work wrestling with ideas of savagery and blood and the abyss. It’s cold, dark, mean music, and it’s coming out at the time of year when we, collectively, need some of that.
Final Days is out now on Sacred Bones.
Other albums of note out today:
• Foo Fighters’ limp dude-rock travelogue Sonic Highways.
• Parquet Courts offshoot Parkay Quarts’ awesomely twitchy garage rocker Content Nausea.
• Big K.R.I.T.’s adventurous country-rap opus Cadillactica.
• Azealea Banks’ long-awaited, out-of-nowhere debut Broke With Expensive Taste.
• Mitski’s idiosyncratic, DIY debut Bury Me At Makeout Creek.
• The Men side project Dream Police’s synthy, psychedelic debut Hypnotized.
• Old Man Gloom’s dark, heavy, crushing The Ape Of God.
• Nots’ jagged, asskicking garage rock attack We Are Nots.
• Pink Floyd’s most-instrumental, supposedly-final The Endless River.
• Röyksopp’s album-length goodbye The Inevitable End.
• Marianne Faithfull’s grand, wizened Give My Love To London.
• A Pregnant Light’s omnivorous one-man black metal wallow My Game Doesn’t Have A Name.
• Damien Rice’s sensitive comeback My Favorite Faded Fantasy.
• The Hanged Man’s heaving, spitting dark-electro mini-album First Quarter Moon.
• Hail Mary Mallon’s insular indie-rap bugout Bestiary.
• Hookworms’ quirky space-rocker The Hum.
• King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s scuzzy psych-rocker In In Your Mind Fuzz.
• Torn Hawk’s evocative instrumental sprawler Let’s Cry And Do Pushups At The Same Time.
• …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead’s grandly psychedelic IX.
• 2:54’s twinkling, brooding The Other I.
• Ex Cops’ glamorously shoegazey Daggers.
• Caddywhompus’ arty post-rocker Feathering A Nest.
• Mazes’ jittery, punked-up Wooden Aquarium.
• The New Basement Tapes’ Bob Dylan exhumation project Lost On The River.
• Usnea’s sludgy funeral doom hellstorm Random Cosmic Violence.
• Mark McGuire’s Noctilucence EP.
• YACHT’s Where Does This Disco? EP.
• BenZel’s MEN EP.
• Jon Hopkins’ Asleep Versions EP.
• Jacques Greene’s After Life, After Party EP.
• Carcass’ Surgical Remission/Surplus Steel EP.
• Hundred Waters’ Down From The Rafters Remix EP.