[sic] Magazine

Little Scream – Cult Following

Following certain artists is like watching a caterpillar become a butterfly. A rare few go the opposite direction. Others announce themselves fully formed and some, like Little Scream’s Laurel Sprengelmeyer, arrive a striking débutante only to then make the same head-turning entrance twice. Following 2011’s orchestral pop opus The Golden Record, Cult Following is that double-take moment.

Sprengelmeyer’s aptly titled Golden Record was blessed with a strong supporting cast, of which Aaron Dessner and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry reappear here. Cult Following is perhaps even better furnished in this department. Being able to call on, amongst others, Sufjan Stevens’ synth composition, Owen Pallett’s string arrangements (who, miraculously, was not already involved in this project), Bryce Dessner’s guitar work and no less than Sharon Van Etten, as well as Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio’s backing vocals is impressive enough, but Sprengelmeyer has more than just an enviable little black book in her arsenal. She herself readily concedes to pushing herself “to go further on all fronts” with Cult Following and, any vestige of shyness now resolutely shaken off, it’s the literal sound of her getting out the bedroom, her Montreal home, too, and finding inspiration in a remote part of Brazil – a place where “people were running around reading auras, interpreting each other’s dreams, and ‘living on light’ instead of eating.”

Cult Following resists the temptation to dive into ethnic escapism all the same, exploring instead a suite of songs that flows between quirky electro-pop statements and sumptuous classical stylings. Pulsing synth rubs shoulders with menacing strings and delicate piano. Numerous interludes, intros and come-downs bridge more traditional song-craft. It’s all very intelligent and modern, and – on side A – it’s also seriously good fun. Alongside the glittery choruses and rich instrumentation of a track like “Dark Dance”, for example, you also get the remarkably upbeat single “Love As A Weapon”. Built on breezy funk, parping bass and tasteful acoustic flutters it’s somehow not a million miles from the ever-present ubiquity of “Blurred Lines” – only as tackled by someone with the vision of St. Vincent. Sprengelmeyer goes dizzyingly high register in it too – Bee Gees style – and, despite going a bit longer than strictly necessary, it’s the sort of song that’d start an impromptu procession of players and followers as they snake around some dancefloor.

Elsewhere the running order frequently starts intimately only to round out into classy constructions, lullabies and melodies culminating in confident solos and rousing choruses, such as the one shared with Kyp Malone on stand-out moment “The Kissing”. On “Evan”, also, rootsy minimalism is augmented and transformed by stately gospel. Sprengelmeyer’s party nevertheless becomes more introspective on the flip. Chill, nebulous swirls dissipate only for her whispy vocal. Her arrangements remain large though, playing now at mid-distance apart from key parts. Melancholy woodwind dominates “Wreckage”, for example, its equally prominent drums pulling the track down into blacker waters to contrast with Sprengelmeyer’s girlish turn.

In places she comes on like Bat For Lashes during these latter tracks, whereas LP curtain closer “Silent Moon” sounds only like music for the stage, a teary musical during which Sprengelmeyer admits that “Once I saw what was true / There was not much left of you.” Cult Following’s narrative may not be particularly innovative, but the costume department have outdone themselves throughout. There is substance, too, to back up the style and if it weren’t all so exhausting – you need to keep your eyes and ears open at all times for fear of missing something – it might be even easier to appreciate.

Best track: “The Kissing”

~Cult Following will be released June 3rd 2016 via Merge.~