Cage the Elephant fans are breaking out their Dr. Martens and dark eyeliner to jam out to a new electrifying, alternative underground-rock album. “Social Cues,” released April 19, brings lead singer Matt Shultz’s personal strife to the surface. Bogged down with a divorce and navigating the pain of his two best friends’ deaths, Schultz rectifies the pieces of his broken heart and reassembles them into an all-encompassing entity of his emotions.
Shultz views his trauma holistically rather than as an incident invoking an explicit emotion. In an interview with Beats 1, Shultz discloses the benefit of acknowledging all angles of his emotions.
“I think there's the temptation to get stuck in the melodrama of things,” Shultz said. You miss out on other notes and colors of life that are so important.”
The album’s opener, “Broken Boy,” has a heavy electronic-instrumental influence with heightened percussion, which adds to the intensity of the emotion. The song alludes to Shultz’s mental state. His sadness is vexing and is given dimension when he prompts the listener with introspective questions: “Tell me why I was born to live in this skin / Tell me how I'm supposed to be forgiven / With my hand in the hive and the sun in my eyes.” “Broken Boy” sets the tone for the rest of the existential and grief-stricken album.
Cage the Elephant embodies an abundance of emotions not purely from its inventive and provoking lyrics, but also through the diverse musicality heard in “Social Cues.” The diametrical opposition of lyrics can be heard in “Night Running.” The lyrics are ominous compared to the funk soundscape that has the potential to uplift a meek mood. Shultz sings in a deadpan manner, “Undercover / The cloak and dagger / Is there a creature in the attic? / Are we for real, yeah? / Or just pretending? / Will it burn out by the morning?” This ingenious tactic is seen commonly in alternative music, and Cage the Elephant uses it to portray the intentional ambiguity of the song.
The album screams “alternative rock” with its purposeful post-production fry added to Shultz’s voice. “Dance Dance” is psychedelic in nature, allowing the listener a brief break from the meek topic of death and divorce and guiding them into the alternate world of drugs and sex. Shultz cryptically sings: “Time to drop the needle, show 'em what they're missin' / Chase it, we'll all fake it 'til we forget / Turn the lights down and keep chasin' / Are we vibin' or just lyin'? Yeah, we're vibin.'”
Transitioning back to a gloomy vibe, “What I’m Becoming” sets the album back on the path of heartbreak. The lyrics, “Im so sorry for what I’m becoming,” sticks out between elegant phrases of electric violin. The instrumentality is romantic and swells with the intensity of the music, but the mellow glumness of the instrumental background is persistent, representing the subtle and consistent sadness Shultz endures.
“Social Cues” exposes raw emotion and dexterously tackles the challenge of encapsulating the mind of the listener. Its integrated approach encompasses the varying sentiments residing in the lyricism and inflection of the album. The notes and colors are dark and rich, unveiling the mind of Shultz. “All my life I read between the lines / Held on too tight, you know I tried / But in the end, it left me paralyzed / It's alright, goodbye, goodbye,” Shultz sings in the closing song of the album called “Goodbye.”
Through trauma, Schultz seeks therapy in music. “Social Cues” is a melanchalonous album that causes the listener to pause and consider a wide spectrum of human emotions, just as Shultz did when he was delving into his psyche in order to produce his most current work of art.
Contact Audrey Nakagawa at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.