Saturday, 28 February 2015

Review: Cheatahs - Sunne EP (the405)



This perpetual, better-in-my-day sentiment still hangs over contemporary rock music yet younger music fans crave innovation and creativity in their new bands more than ever, forming this almost impossible balancing act between the nostalgic and the innovative. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for the revivalist, though, for the old dude at the Christmas party telling everyone about their favourite guitar setting on Loveless. With their eponymous debut album, Cheatahs sounded exciting and energetic but fell short of making any sort of indelible mark in genre already brimming with pretenders, creating an album that explored a wide array of paths already laid out, without forging enough of their own.
In an interview with Clash Magazine in 2012, singer Nathan Hewitt said: “I think now that we’re invested in it together it’s becoming easier to come up with songs that fit the band”, and it’s clear that songwriting might not be the kind of organic, throw-your-passions-against-the-wall process you read about in Tony Parsons novels. These songs are all very clinical and very deliberate, with frequent production and recording techniques hidden beneath every cadence and every chord change. Take the disorientating tremolo use on the guitar line on ‘Controller’, or the way the backing vocals and guitar lines merge into a single part towards the end of ‘No Drones’. Hewitt and the band are obviously supremely talented and experienced musicians, using these skills alongside an encyclopaedic understanding of their favourite bands to expand their limitations as songwriters. And every song is more evidence of their striking ability to explore the emotional properties of their instruments and of the recording studio, using textural and instrumental flourishes as centrepieces for everything else to be built around, like the piercing lead guitar in title track ‘Sunne’ which sounds just slightly out of tune and badly mixed. It’s almost unlistenable, but manages to capture an anxiety that the barely audible lyrics can never surpass. That their deal with Wichita came off the back of a short support slot in 2012 is unsurprising; with their ability to use timbre and volume as a form of expression certain to make an impressive live show.
Whilst their dedication to this shoegaze and psychedelica sound is undeniably infectious, it’s a shame that they are so reverential of its history and the things they love about it to attempt to make any real modifications to the formula. This puts them in danger of sounding like a bunch of guys with a great record collection playing their favourite tunes in their garage. And clocking in at just over twelve minutes, Sunne is a jarringly short EP in a genre that has always been characterised by these expansive and immersive albums. The four songs on Sunne sound more like a collection of ideas rattling around like loose change at the bottom of a bag, rather than a considered, cohesive body of work. Released just a year after their eponymous debut album, Cheatahs might be using it to give themselves more time to work on their second record. Or they could just be overflowing with ideas. It’s difficult to imagine it being of little to use to anyone other than the converted, though, instead offering a brief, and at times thrilling, timestamp in the story of a band still very much in transition, looking for a way to carve their own identity out of the enormous weight of their influences.

5.5/10
Mike Townsend
http://www.thefourohfive.com/review/article/cheatahs-sunne-ep-142

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