The minute we heard “New West,” the first single from the self-titled album from Cult of Youth, I’ll admit that I was more than intrigued. It’s got a bit of a old barroom punk rock ethos, yet the more I listened to the track, the more I discovered about the band and their sound. Sneaky strings lurked in the background, and that dirty bass line never ceased to grab me. Dirty alcoholic punk mixed with strings you say? Yes, I do, and oh so much more.
Kicking off the record is “New West,” the aforementioned track that really piqued my interest. Sean Ragon’s desperate growling vocals evokes a bit of spirit I long thought had disappeared. Despite the song’s desire to have this layer of grit, there’s still an uncanny beauty from the guitar parts matched with the related string instruments. It’s quite a special track. From here, the band really sort of keeps pace with this sort of shantie-like track, as if the band’s leading you to sea with their brash blend of folk and punk ethos.
Track four, “Casting Thorns” is when the band begins to alter the sound, creating a space for the string arrangements to really shine in the forefront. Ragon doesn’t have the same raspy vocals, seeming more calm here as he strums the guitar. But, there’s still a level of darkness that underlies the track, giving a bit of an angrier tint to the traditionally folk sounds apparent here. It’s this sort of change that leaves the band sort of stuck in the middle of their own sound, which has both positive and negative attributes. “Through the Fear” even introduces a bit of horns, making the band sound increasingly dynamic. It’s good to see that the band evolves beyond the sound that I originally noted them for upon my introduction to the group.
The latter half of the album does tire a bit, though there are some exceptional tracks hiding here. “Lorelei” has a great strummed guitar driving the song along, and Ragon’s baritone sounds incredibly haunting here, but in a manner that makes you appreciate a good spirit watching over you. It’s the most unassuming track of this collection, and perhaps that’s why it’s so successful, or that it precedes the one misstep the band makes, that being the seven-minute sleeper, “The Lamb.” Okay, so there are some musical elements here that are to most people’s liking, but the song could have been wrapped up much quicker, as it seemed to carry on perhaps beyond its welcome point.
All in all, Cult of Youth has done a great job with this self-titled effort, offering new fans a hint at what they’re all about, but leaving plenty of room for growth and directional jaunts in the future. You have to appreciate a band that’s not dying to get tied down in one place, and with the diversity of this record, who knows where they’ll go, but I’m sure it will be good.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Cult-Of-Youth-New-West.mp3]
Download: Cult Of Youth – New West [MP3]