Bayside - Cult | Album Review | By Volume

Understand that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head. Laura Stevenson - Wheel



Consistent for years but this might be their best.

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Author: on February 21, 2014
Hopeless Records

The consistency exhibited by Long Island quartet Bayside has made them an incredibly difficult band to write about. From unshackled beginnings, they’ve found more and more pop niches to an initially punk aesthetic, weaving elements of the Beatles and classic rock — alongside myriad others — into a sound that’s evolved from “aggressive” to “passionate”, whatever connotations that may have. But there’s a running nod, even amid some of their biggest admirers, that Bayside are not wired to produce a Masterpiece beyond their early-career single of the same title. Cult, the group’s sixth full-length record, at least asks the question, despite sliding in effortlessly next to their back catalogue from a sonic perspective.

Factors that may have influenced this impression include: the title, which is an in-joke among fans; the now ten-year span of their discography; my personal desire to see this immensely lovable band appreciated for their brilliance; and, lastly, the fact that every single track on Cult is superb. There’s no curve ball like “Moceanu” here, but the innovation is more granular: on “Hate Me”, Raneri drifts towards growls; on “The Whitest Lie”, the band edge in the direction of gimmicks — the brevity of the choral section is fantastically judged.

It feels more whole and momentous than any of the band’s records to date. While the sound sits within normal parameters, it’s the tinges of experimentation and overdrive peppered throughout that ring true. “Stuttering” is a great song even before its closing refrain finds Raneri overflowing with frustration, but it’s tipped into the box marked “goosebumps” by that unleashing. “Something’s Wrong” has an unusually drawn-out chorus and a strange lyrical bent: “Raise a glass to the death of the generation gap” turns to, “You were wrong when you told me I was right, when I said pleasure comes in ways you can’t define.” It makes Bayside harder to get at when they play outside their comfort zone; they retain their charm, but it gets fancy new clothes.

But it’s with this that I have to say: on Cult, the guitars are more potent than they’ve been before, the rhythms are consistently enthralling, and Raneri is arguably at his cynical, angry, career best. What makes Bayside’s sixth album stand apart from its predecessors is a broad range of details. It feels like a consequential entity, something with weight. It sounds charged with ideas and bite. It’s executed supremely, probably instrumentally the best record the group have ever released. Is it the Masterpiece whose absence the band’s detractors have noted? No. It still lacks the je-ne-sais-quoi. But Cult is way more than a niche offering, way more than a solid rock album. It no longer feels like the band are killing time.

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