Release Date: Feb 11, 2014
Record label: Wichita
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Resurgent interest in noisy, distortion-laden guitar music has yielded a lot of great records that pay homage to past triumphs rather than trying to best them. After a string of EPs and seven-inches, Cheatahs' debut finds a happy medium between the sonic exploration of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and the innate tunefulness of Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque, two of shoegaze's iconic pillars.That dichotomy is laid bare in the London, England-based band's creative brain trust. The songs are crafted by singer-guitarists Nathan Hewitt, an Edmonton ex-pat, and James Wignall, while bass-player Dean Reid shapes their dense, layered sound in the group's Hackney studio.
Wonderful thing, retrospect. Looking back at the early ‘90s, Cheatahs – from London via Dresden, San Diego, Alberta and, um, Leicester – can cherry-pick hints of MBV’s ‘Isn’t Anything’ and ‘Loveless’, Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Bug’, Lush’s ‘Spooky’ and Kitchens Of Distinction’s ‘Strange Free World’ to create a fuzzadelic miasma that effortlessly merges shoegaze and grunge. Gru-gaze, if you will: the more UK-slanted accompaniment to Menace Beach’s wobbly Sub Pop reinventions.
Five years after releasing their first recordings, the Cheatahs have taken their own sweet time making their first full-length album, but the band's self-titled debut album was most certainly worth the wait: if some indie rock follower is still waiting for the Great Lost Shoegaze Album to be released in the 21st century, Cheatahs deserves that honorific as well as anything you could name. On these sessions, guitarists Nathan Hewitt and James Wignall evoke vast clouds of guitar sound, with banks of textured noise floating through like fog rolling in from the distance while the leads drift overhead, alternately ringing like bells and howling like beasts. The production (by the band) and engineering (by bassist Dean Reid) make the most of the banks of guitars, giving them a sound that's rich and saturated in echo, while the insistent throb of Reid's bass and the crash of Marc Raue's drums bob up and down through this music like waves on the ocean, with keyboards and loops adding subtle washes of color.
Early last year Cheatahs began dropping a paper trail of singles that hinted at a debut LP. Amid the endless touring, the London-based quartet wrapped things up and is finally delivering the goods. And they’re off to a good start. On their self-titled debut, Cheatahs—made up of members from Germany, England, Canada and the U.S.—aren’t necessarily going to floor you with their originality.
Like the multi-national makeup of the band itself, Cheatahs sound is equally influenced by celebrated guitar-driven scenes found on both sides of the Atlantic. The London-based quartet filter equal measures late-’80s UK shoegaze and early-’90s American garage-rock on their self-titled debut full length. The group crafts a distortion-drenched sound that is at once a familiar throwback to beloved eras gone by, as well as an untamed musical statement from a band who is anxious to forge their own way forward in a modern scene grown desperate for more guitar-fueled fury.
Just to get one blindingly obvious thing clear right off the bat here: if you’re a young band taking most of your cues from My Bloody Valentine, then it probably behooves you to adopt a similarly bloody-minded attitude as Kevin Shields when it comes to the idea of making concessions on volume or intensity. Last year’s Yuck record, Glow and Behold, was largely in thrall to the Irish noiseniks, but succeeded only in offering up an imitation so pale that it bordered on sacrilege. If you want to use deafening guitars to make something beautiful, you’d better have the energy to back it up.
Oh, could this album be any more 90s? It only seems like yesterday that the 1980s was the kids’ decade of choice when it came to plundering the musical archives for inspiration. Now it seems they’ve moved on a decade, or rather the next generation of kids have hit their stride and are looking for a source of their own. And, of course, with the instant online availability of pretty much anything that has gone before, it's a doddle for a new young band to hone their sound to such a degree of perfection that it’s all but impossible to distinguish the new from the old – the copy from the original.
At various points since the 1960s people have declared that groups of guitars are on the way out; that the electric guitar has been shaped and distorted in so many ways that all new avenues are exhausted. Bands with guitars seem happy to slot themselves into pre-determined genres, and pay homage to the past. Cheatahs are a two-year-old band from London but their music sounds far from new.
Attention, fans of the grunge-pop resurgence we’ve been enjoying for the past few years: stop panicking. Yuck may have lost their grip on the ‘90s-Alt-Revival crown with the departure of frontman Daniel Blumberg and last year’s middling sophomore record Glow And Behold, but Cheatahs are ready and waiting to take the title up for themselves with their self-titled debut. Like Yuck, Cheatahs are London-based and comprise a melting-pot of different nationalities (Canadian frontman Nathan Hewitt joined by English guitarist James Wignall, American bassist Dean Reid and German drummer Marc Raue), with an overall sound that hovers somewhere over the mid-Atlantic, circa 1990.
If you equate ambition with novelty and invention, Cheatahs’ self-titled debut sets the bar as low as any record you’ll hear in 2014. Though the multinational, UK-based quartet works within a very narrow stylistic range on Cheatahs, there’s no specific genre that defines it so much as a time frame. You know when you hear it, you heard it perfected sometime between 1990 and 1994 and it really hasn’t gone anywhere since.
For a band with such a convoluted background Cheatahs make rather straightforward music. Each member of Cheatahs hails from a different country: frontman Nathan Hewitt is from Canada, guitarist James Wignall from the UK, bassist/producer Dean Reid is an American, and drummer Marc Raue was transplanted from Germany. Strange then that Cheatahs seem to be dead set on making candid and uncomplicated shoegaze.
If you’ve ever wondered why dogs stick their heads out of the car window then have a listen to ‘Geographic’ by Cheatahs. Then you’ll know. Know the undeniably joyous feeling of dipping your face into a whooshing jet stream of guitars that leaves you lolling your tongue at the world like a sedated Miley Cyrus.But for anyone brought up in the 90s that won’t necessarily be a new experience.
Listening to the full-length debut of London quartet Cheatahs, it’s tempting to see its 12 tracks as a sort of sampler platter of the best of ’90s indie guitar-rock. Strains of My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Treepeople, Built To Spill, Seam, Sugar, and Archers Of Loaf appear throughout, with Nathan Hewitt and James Wignall’s thick guitars recalling the first two most frequently. Hewitt’s vocals aren’t high in the mix and often compete with the guitars, which recalls the unpolished, lo-fi mixes of classic indie rock.
This UK quartet, comprising a Brit, a Canuck, a Yank and a German, seems to have taken the indie rock world by a storm a year or so ago. By chance I saw them playing in the middle of a bill with Wavves and Fidlar a year or so ago and was duly impressed. They released a few EPs last year (collected on one CD, reviewed here), and now comes their long-awaited full-length.
Introductions can be so agitating. Especially when you meet somebody and they ask you the awkward testing-the-waters question, “So what are you into?” When asked, you might not know what the hell you’re into but, you answer anyway, subjecting yourself to their unwarranted judgements. Even more so than you, bands suffer from this shoddy judging, and debut albums are the prime target for it.