Cultdreams – ‘Things That Hurt’

By Fiachra Johnston

It’s one thing to deal with trauma. It’s another to grow up with it, and to express and accept it through music. Yet Cultdreams’ pairing of Lucinda Livingstone and Conor Dawson, formerly known as Kamikaze Girls, are doing just that with ‘Things That Hurt’, the followup to their 2017 breakout record ‘Seafoam’. This is a fresh start for the pairing, and this album feels that way, despite its narrative of looking back on the years. Tonally and sonically different from their last few outings, ‘Things That Hurt’ is hard, frantic, and not afraid to show its scars.

One thing that can’t be said about Cultdreams’ sophomore record  is that it lacks diversity in its styles. We’ve seen more and more new rock albums open with various kinds of slow burners, but the opening track here, ‘Born An Underdog, Still Living One’ is one of the stronger attempts at starting off slow, serving as an impressive introduction not just to the themes Livingstone and Dawson explore throughout ‘Things That Hurt’, but to how much they’ve grown since they’re previous outings. This leads into the more old school ‘Not My Generation’, moving from past experiences to present suffering, and picking up the pace along the way for a despondent look at misogyny in the modern era.

There is so much exploration here, from that old school punk to these grungy, heavy riffs to even what seem like shoegaze inspired tracks such as the midway point, ‘Brain Daze’. While this makes for a wonderfully varied record, it does mean that the album loses some of its fluidity at times, as the jarring stylistic changes can leave it with less of a cohesive narrative than might be intended.

Production is loose but atmospheric, with heavy reverb that really allows some of the guitars to shine, particularly in some of the more restrained tracks like ‘Rest & Reflection’, an Alice In Chains-era hard rock anthem that really emphasises everything Cultdreams gets right on the album. Livingstone’s vocals do sometimes get lost in the wall of sound however, particularly on the lead single ‘We Never Rest’,  which features impressive guest vocals by Katie Dvorak and David F Bellow from The World Is A Beautiful Place. Otherwise, it’s a brilliant track with a deceivingly upbeat melody focusing on the social pressures and normalities that have become ingrained in our personalities.

The album slows down with ‘Don’t Let Them Tell You Otherwise’ and ‘Statement’ before ramping up the sinister riffs for the final two songs, arguably the strongest of the group. ‘Repent, Regress’ and ‘Toxins’ feel like they belong together in a way, with the former being about the failing of faith, and the latter a gut wrenching admittance of feeling failed by a loved one through inaction. They’re harrowing tracks and they leave a lasting mark on the rest of the record on subsequent listens.

Things That Hurt is a raw and unflinching take on generational trauma, from depression to PTSD, to ingrained misogyny and stereotyping. While the edges are rough, it’s an album that isn’t afraid to bare skin and be honest. and it’s a strong sophomore showing from the Brighton duo that, regardless of the name they go under, are able to create a captivating, mesmerising atmosphere with the music they put out.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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