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. It’s not bad by any means; some of the songs here stand as fantastically strong pieces. It’s just simple. Obviously My Bloody Valentine fans will find some engaging songs on their self-titled debut, but Cheatahs also do a fair job with jangle pop and ‘90s lo-fi indie rock, blending it all into a hazy concoction.
After the fuzzy filler intro of “I”, Cheatahs waste no time jumping into the streamlined rocker “Geographic”. It’s a strong start and Cheatahs might have actually overplayed their hand by using it as the first real track on the album. The speedy tune is one of the album’s finest, with haunting harmonies floating around the verses and a wall of warm guitars forming the song’s structure. The jangly following track “Northern Exposure” is a catchy little piece, but is weighed down by an odd vocal filter which saps the song of its energy. It’s unfortunate, as the other songs where Cheatahs really step on the gas are some of their best. The penultimate “Cut the Grass” is the best example: an eerie organ is introduced and the song clips along with a dark and unnerving energy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Mission Creep”. It’s crystalline beauty does, indeed, creep along at a torpid pace. Cheatahs languish in the track, expelling heat off of the organ work and the guitar lines. Of course, not wanting to stick to any theme, Cheatahs follow up the underwater drone with “Get Tight”, the song most indebted to Dinosaur Jr. here. It begins well, with Hewitt singing in his most slacker tone, but the chorus takes a strange turn with an unpleasant guitar lead that seems out of place. “Get Tight” isn’t the only song here that takes poorly planned detours. “IV” is shaped by swelling guitars and has brief lifting and powerful moments—especially in the chorus—but it never picks up enough steam to deserve its place here. “Fall” is memorable thanks to its twinkling guitar lead, which only enters about half way through the song. Cheatahs’ main issue doesn’t come from any one song lacking. Rather, it’s how the songs begin to meld into indistinguishable pieces, especially on the last half of the album. The haze that covers many of these songs becomes grating over time.
Thankfully a few songs act as relief. “Kenworth” impressively pulls off a shimmering ambient section that takes up half of the song’s six-minute run time. “The Swan” finds Cheatahs pulling off one of 2014’s most massive songs. A two part guitar riff opens the song in grand manner before Raue charges the song with a rumbling drum fill and the song explodes. It’s sure to slay live and stands with “Mission Creep” as one of the finest songs here. Cheatahs bring enough winners to the table to make their debut a worthwhile listen and promise a bright future.
// Notes from the Road
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