[26 February 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Maybe it’s because the Cheatahs are based out of London, but they’re already getting bogged down by a series of unnecessary comparisons. They remind people of Swervedriver or My Bloody Valentine or Ride or whoever else we’ve got nostalgic attachment to. But, when listening to Extended Plays, you’ve got to wonder: can’t they just be the Cheatahs? Do they have to be the next incarnation of so-and-so, or the revival of this or that sound?
It’s a question worth asking because, unlike a lot of bands who dabble in the kind of rock music the Cheatahs sound so at home playing, these songs are guileless in their approach. There’s very little in the way of winking knowledge, of self-aware nods to the past, of stylized revivalism. This sounds like the only aesthetic the Cheatahs could possibly come up with. It’s their sound, even if it draws parallels to those that came before it.
And, well, they can be pretty good at it. Extended Plays says much with its laid-plain title. The set comprises two previous EPs—Coared and SANS—and the songs themselves are all straight-up rockers. They don’t hide much, even in all that distortion, at least not at first. Opener “The Swan” is a perfect lead single and good introduction to the band. The guitars charge forward with crunching power chords and swirling riffs laying a menacing groundwork for echoing, sweet vocals. It’s an old trick, but one done well here. It leads into the crunchier chug of “SANS”, where the vocals get a bit clearer, but still maintain the same whispery confessional edge, while the guitars dive deeper into the murk and even erupt into an unwieldy single.
It’s a solid one-two punch to start, and it sets up the curiously dichotomous parameters of the Cheatahs’s sound. The songs deliver a lean energy, but more listens reveal more layers in the guitar work, more rolling lines to the bass, more intricacy to the drums. We move from the more overcast rippling hooks of “Fountain Park” to the bright chords of “Coared”—which actually sounds closer to a sunny take on Jawbreaker than any shoegaze band, if we must compare—and you can see the clear lines between them. The textures here move subtly from song to song and reveal moments of strong songwriting.
These subtle moves, though, may be too subtle over the course of the record. If we’re busy comparing the Cheatahs instead of figuring out who they are, the band itself seems to spend these songs trying to find itself without total success. The players have found their strengths, and you see it in charmed parts of these songs, but the list of those strengths feels a bit short here. If they’re strong on texture, the songs feel short on melody, and the dreamy vocals get smudged the longer we go—often treated with a different echo-y filter each time. The effect obscures these songs and makes them bleed together. The different vocal filters feel like surface changes to songs that all take the same approach.
And it may be a good approach. “Coared” and “The Swan” are standouts here, hints of what the band could be. But there’s also a staggering amount of homogeneity here, especially considering this combines two releases. As it stands, Extended Plays is the sound of a band with a winning sound still searching for songs to shape it into. So while we should forget about comparing them to the past, we also shouldn’t be in a hurry to decide who they are just yet, not until they do anyway.