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Frank Black’s departure from 4AD coincides with an abandonment of studio-clean sound. On The Cult of Ray, whose title pays homage to author Ray Bradbury, Black deviates from the tidy approach he took to 1994’s Teenager of
the Year. Although he retains his oblique lyrical content, driving tempos, and minor-chord progressions, he increasingly relies on a dirty and distorted guitar foundation, courtesy of Lyle Workman. Black’s tortured “The Marsist” (which opens with the same screeching feedback as ex-Pixie Kim Deal’s “Cannonball”) sets the tone of the album, incorporating aggressive guitar leads and pained vocalizations. (“I want distortion when I barre chord,” the frontman mutters on “Jesus Was Right,” and that could be considered his guiding principle.) “Kicked in the Taco” starts out jangly, then quickly transforms into heavy-duty power chords and harshly enunciated lyrics; of the 13 tracks here, only the stagnant “I Don’t Want to Hurt You (Every Single Time)” lacks intellectual and physical energy. Black wisely refrains from overemphasizing Cult’s sci-fi concept, but he does see fit to include social commentary in the title of the metal-edged instrumental, “Mosh, Don’t Pass the Guy.” Black maintains his reputation for creating clamor on Cult, even as he recalibrates his style.—Ben Buja