My old friend Ken, one time way back in High School – probably spontaneously, as we were about to begin a test in something like Geometry class – blurted out one of his many invented jokes. He said: “I hate taking tests at the zoo.” Of course, what you may have already surmised is that this is not a good way to set up a joke. There’s no inherent response that such a statement will illicit, such as a ‘knock knock’ joke, which universally brings about the response: “who’s there?” Somehow though, we were all tuned in enough to set him up as he needed to bring about the punch line. “Why do you hate taking tests at the zoo, Ken?” - came the response. “I always end up next to the cheatahs.” And now, here we are 25 plus years later and I am listening to the debut album by a band named Cheatahs, before attending the first stop on their first US tour here in Portland tonight (2/22/14). I cannot imagine a connection here, besides that they are using the term Cheatahs in the same twisted context. Word has it that this UK-based four-piece, comprised of an American, a Canadian, a Brit and a German, coined the name because they were all involved with other projects, but were moonlighting with each other as they formed this band. Whatever the case, I’m glad they went the route they’ve chosen, because their previous Extended Plays collection (my 2013 #11 pick seen here) and now this debut are dominating my music world.
As mentioned in my review of Extended Plays, this band dwells in musical styling’s that were guiding my days back in the early 90s. They could be ripped for being too derivative, but I simply don’t care. This new album contains a fire and passion and a quality that overcomes everything. What I liked about the best of the old “shoegaze” bands (a terrible UK press term thrown at a wide variety of bands of that era, because their stage presence was too insular and not rock star-ish enough for headline hungry writers) were that they acted as a complete unit. All of the instruments (be it guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, vocals, etc.) were on equal footing. The songs were more about the whole impression - a wash of noise that could somehow be loud and bold, dreamy and atmospheric, and most importantly melodic, all at the same time! When bands such as Swervedriver, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, early Moose, Lush, Catherine Wheel, Pale Saints, Curve and many many blew my freaking mind and expanded my horizons twenty plus years ago, it was because they somehow encapsulated everything that I had previously loved about music up to that point and pushed it to new territories. Cheatahs have brought this all back to me and it sounds as fresh now as it ever did then.
For those familiar with the band up to this point, the second EP Sans lead off track “The Swan” makes a triumphant appearance in all of its huge pounding and soaring glory. It has the same kind of vibe as Interpol’s “PDA,” but not as dry and angular. Also, both sides of their late 2013 pre-LP single emerge in fuller forms. The “Son of Mustang Ford” careening abandon and white hot riffage of “Kenworth” slowly dissolves into a floating in space ambient conclusion, while the super catchy buzz and spooky keyboards of “Cut the Grass” are allowed to come to a proper conclusion now, as the abrupt fade-out from the 7” is corrected. Meanwhile all of the new material blasts and swoons perfectly. The album feels cohesive and flows naturally. The new single “Get Tight” alternates a grinding power chord with each sung lyric and manages to alternate between heavy rock, dreamy psychedelia, and catchy three minute pop song. Elsewhere, the opening mellow instrumental snippet of “1” explodes into “Geographic” whose hard strummed guitar hook instantly puts this song into overdrive, while the blistering and gliding “Northern Exposure” and its amazing chorus brings to mind the inspiration that is Teenage Fanclub’s “Star Sign.” The second half of the album is the first real sign of their My Bloody Valentine influence, as “IV” is rife with layers of see-saw off-kilter feedback waves over the top of a stuttering shuffle beat. The album closes with the most melancholic sounding song of the collection, “Loon Calls,” which is also one of their strongest to date,
It’s always difficult to describe what music sounds like, but it’s even harder when everything fits together so well in these ‘washes’ of melodic sound. It takes so many listens to break apart mentally each component’s importance to the whole. What I can say though, is that this is a lot of fun to listen to and both of their CDs have been on constant repeat at home and in my car for some time now. I do not see that ending any time soon. Now should I try and tell them Ken’s joke sometime before or after their performance tonight? Probably not.
Cheatahs "Get Tight"