I’m not a fan of those oh so familiar, “Why aren’t they famous?” rants so often seen when people talk of certain critically acclaimed acts who remain far below the radar for all but the most astute and informed listeners.
However, rules are for breaking and so, my question is, in a world where derivative, intelligence-insulting product is a rising tide from which escape seems impossible, why are the Cult With No Name not household names whose praises are sung from the rooftops?
Let’s look at the facts, they’ve amassed a hugely creditable body of work, use 80s influences in ways that don’t make you stifle a yawn and roll your eyes, they poke and prod at the stupidity of the age with a beautifully deft touch that most lack the wit or skill to do and (maybe most importantly) have some damn fine tunes to wrap it all up in.
But let’s not dwell on the past. Nights in North Sentinel is the reason we’re here.
2019’s Mediaburn (see review previously) was a ridiculously impressive record, maybe their best, certainly one for any sentient beings’ end of year top ten. In the intervening period the world has been turned upside down, again, so lots of grist to their mill of inspiration you might think… and you’d be right.
North Sentinel is itself a fascinating place, an island in the Bay of Bengal, inhabited by the Sentinelese who live a life of voluntary seclusion and are known to defend that status by force. Don’t bother checking the reviews on Tripadvisor… you can’t visit.
So it seems my vision of a brutalist dystopian future-scape was maybe a little bit too obvious. In fact perhaps I should have looked closer to home, and in the here and now, for an island where some of the inhabitants believe that isolation is the best protection…
In fact NINS feels like a collection of songs responding to the effects of isolation in all its forms, whether in society or within relationships. Don’t worry though, it’s nothing so obvious as a ‘pandemic record’.
Lush soundscapes carry viciously wry lyrics that neither take themselves too seriously nor take you, dear listener, for a fool. There’s a darkness here, no doubt, but it’s the luxuriously neon-splashed night of say Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing rather than a gothic gloom.
Actually opener ‘All Those Things I Admire’ is almost beatific, with its Kraftwerk-echoing intro and a lyric that playfully tears apart the ‘it’s not me it’s you’ narrative, Eric’s vocal shadowed by the very welcome return of Kelli Ali.
The insistent beat of ‘Noa’s Arc’, although a potential dance floor filler, still twinkles with rolling piano and synth filled unease as it tracks an unending fight against pain and depression where love is only a distant memory.
Nights in North Sentinel consistently allows me to use some of the words critics reach for without genuine justification being provided by the art at hand. How many times have you been told a record is ‘cinematic,’ or ‘widescreen’ only to find it’s about as cinematic as watching a videoclip on YouTube?
Take the elegiac ‘The Automatic Day’, synths ache and swell beneath Eric’s weary description of a life we all know, as the clock reminds us to begin another morning that merges with the last, and instead of a day of change it’s simply, “that time again” where it’s only, “the voices (that) tell me to carry on”. Sublime.
Cheekily, they even name a song after themselves. But far from being a tongue in cheek theme song, its sparse beauty turns out to be a sly treatise on the risk of cult-like beliefs that pander to people’s vulnerabilities while offering a sense of belonging with no apparent need to follow rules.
The deliciously dry ‘(Some Things Are) Better in Groups’ feels key, as existence within a group where, “people won’t ever talk to you” and “everybody thinks the same way too” seems the only alternative to dancing, singing and eating alone. There’s even a little Bowie reference in there.
If I said it all ended up in ‘Ruins’ I wouldn’t be lying, as the song of the same name sweeps us up in a rapturous finale/elegy for a corrupt and failing civilisation where “we’re told to live in fear of someone”…
Of course all empires fall eventually.
In the meantime we can fiddle while Rome burns and enjoy a thrillingly seductive ride through the cracked and distorted hall of mirrors that is our modern world.
CWNN are our secret, but really, we need to share them.
Finally, as a confirmed CD fan let me get ultra-geeky – CWNN continue their commitment to ghost media by lavishing immense amounts of love, care and great design know-how on what should be an award winning package.
The CD revival starts here.
Nights in North Sentinel is released 30th July 2021: https://cultwithnoname.bandcamp.com/album/nights-in-north-sentinel