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Review: HNC’s Cult

Be forewarned: if you like your cupcakes sprinkle-less, your Facebook feed Farmville free and your music non-cluttered with frivolous noise, you will loathe Cult. HNC’s (formerly Hazel Nut Chocolates) latest full-length features the following, completely unnecessary, flourishes: cats, samples of a Spanish countdown, an elephant, something from the The Conet Project, a witch, a cat being digitally strangled and slide whistle galore.

Move past these great-taste-less filling features and you’ll arrive at Cult, one of the most exciting and frustrating pop albums of the year. This album boasts some of the most catchy sugar-high pop of 2009, but immediately follows these peaks with aimless clatter better saved for a bonus disk. Heck, the physical copy of Cult even comes with a bonus disk of tunes loaded with all the flaws of the proper album’s worst cuts, but with more than enough space left over as to act as a cruel tease of what could have been. And there are cats, everywhere.

Yuppa, the mind behind HNC, picked up a lot of tricks from her twee-crunk side gig in Love And Hates. Earlier albums veered more towards an uber-cute pop sound (just watch this). Cult keeps the kawaii elements, but features a much more aggressive breakbeat structure sprinkled with various dance signifiers (check the bass on some of these songs) more appropriate for dubstep. Coupled with her cutesy strokes, this leads to indie-pop on an all-night bender.

And the results can be amazing. Proper opening track “Kitten’s Breaks” matches Yuppa’s cooing against dancehall percussion (and, uh, meows) resulting in a surprisingly manic dance-pop tune. “Moon Song” sounds like Islands “Jogging Gorgeous Summer” sped up and with a gooey electro-bassline tacked on for good measure. “Next M” reads off a checklist of nearly sexy words (“dirty, kinky, party, working, monkey”) before settling for a mantra of “party party party party” all set to the most danceable supermarket music ever conceived.

More impressive are the tracks where Yuppa tones it down a bit and writes a conventional pop song. The adorable hop of “Kira-Kara” borders on the atmospheric save for some lovely reserved singing. Even better is “Girl Things,” which struts along thanks to piano and Yuppa’s “oh oh oh ohs.” It also has
Cult’s best lyrics – a simple sketch of what one girl walking down the street thinks about.

HNC’s lyrics, for the most part, are just another toy in the album’s playroom, an additional cute element. When the words get more prominent placement, things go south. “Witches’ party/there’s no cupcake/witches’ party/they have bloody cake” shakily kicks off “Witches’ Party” which ODs on Halloween candy and sounds way too kitschy even by the time it reaches the part about a pumpkinhead getting married to a scarecrow. “Arabian Nights” follows a similar Disneyland-approved theme, this time the vaguely snake-charmer-esque sound being so uninspired that the singing sticks out…and not much is happening on that front either.

Oh, if only those were Cult’s lowlights. If this review has sounded way to positive given the tone of that second paragraph, that’s because I’ve only focused on the song before the screeching-brakes trio of songs clustered near the end of this album. Starting with “Figure SHOUT,” the album takes a turn for the terrible – the faux-Bollywood beat on this track is OK, but Yuppa’s vocals cross into annoying territory, including some obnoxious spoken word come-ons. Following that is a completely inessential remix of “Kitten’s Breaks,” before closing out with the lazy electroclash of “Girls Don’t Cry” (accurately featuring the tag “F**ked Up By Tiny Bit Associates”). Broken up across the album’s brief running time, they would only be minor diversions. Yet bunched altogether as they are slices Cult’s momentum into pieces.

Maybe it’s all a clever trick, because just as I think HNC should start brainstorming her next LP, Cult’s knockout song comes on. “Mango” adds some island flavor to the breaks and Yuppa’s heavenly “I’m in loves!” It’s the brightest moment on an album overflowing with them.

Ignoring the album’s sequencing woes, Cult’s a strong collection of speedy pop songs. HNC’s slightly altered sound succeeds for the most part – though it should be noted two of the strongest tracks evoke her older work – without losing any of her charm. So next time HNC, get an editor for the tracklist. And for God’s sakes, less meowing.

Buy Cult over here, or on iTunes