All New Indie. Fresh Finds. New Music Friday. Release Radar. These are all official Spotify-created playlists. New Music Daily. Superbloom. Breaking Alternative. You’ll find those on Apple Music. And yet, with all these options, with this endless scroll of suggestions, this sensory-flooding deluge of “new,” “fresh,” and “breaking,” discovery is all but dead.
I, for one, am sick of it. Like an explorer whose map finally stretches to the edges of the page, the world of music discovery has been so codified, measured, and labeled as to lose its allure. Music lovers are no longer slashing their way through uncharted corners of the rainforest so much as dining at the Rainforest Cafe – fed the idea of discovery, instead of actually discovering for themselves.
Then there’s a moment like the one I had a few months back when I stumbled upon a local Philly band by the name of Cult Babies. I found them on what might be the last bastion of true, unfettered discovery: Bandcamp (though how long that lasts remains to be seen). A few search inquiries later and I’m face to face with the subtly manipulated “hanged man” tarot card serving as the cover art for Cult Babies’s second record, Headless., a record I discovered on my own and one that has meant infinitely more to me in the months that followed because of that fact.
Of course, Headless. didn’t literally come from out of nowhere. Cult Babies is the solo project of Collin Reynolds, a songwriter who’s also a part of the Albany-based band Coupons. Cult Babies, it seems, was born out of Reynold’s desire to further explore what he’d been getting at on some of his best work with Coupons. The name itself is a bit of autobiography, a reference to Reynold’s upbringing in what he told The Alternative was an “extremist religious environment,” and his personal journey to extricate from some of the more damaging results of such a childhood. His first record with Cult Babies – last year’s simmering, deliberate, and at times angry Talk, Talk – deals with this directly by tracking the journey of both him and a close cousin as they worked through the wreckage.
That sounds a bit dour, but Talk, Talk, and to a greater extent Headless., are not merely exercises in traumatic archeology, but explorations of the directions one might head when they start back from square one.In many ways, Reynolds seems intent on resisting the kind of cynicism that might accompany such a rebirth. “I don’t wanna die a country music trope, I don’t want to die in general,” he sings on Headless. opener “Creative Drinker,” a song which acknowledges the instinct of the sullen troubadour while poking holes in the facade.
It’s something Reynolds returns to throughout his second record as Cult Babies. “You’re a miserable cunt, so punishingly gray…all self-loathing ever got you, was a seat here next to Tom,” he sings on “monoCHROME,” a song of self-flagellation set to sunny indie rock. It might not always sound like progress, but there is something undeniably freeing in all this condemnation.
Similarly freeing is the way Headless. throws off the shackles of influence that largely shaped Talk, Talk, an album of measured alt-country that featured a song titled “Neil Young.” There’s still a bit of that here – the warbling “mvp,” the rollicking, backyard singalong of “Devil,” the Townes Van Zandt indebted “girl.” – but the branches of the tree stretch further this time around, perhaps bringing in tricks Reynolds learned with his more pure indie-rock focused work with Coupons.
When you discover something unexpected, as I was lucky enough to do with Cult Babies and Headless., it can feel like a beginning. This is, obviously, more than a little myopic. Cult Babies did not begin the moment I stumbled upon them some Tuesday night in December, but it’s hard to not get lost in the excitement of something so unexpected and so damn good coming out of nowhere. Reynold’s did not start his journey as a songwriter with Headless., but it’s where I’m jumping on the bandwagon, ready to ride till the end.