Cheatahs continue to successfully hoard and re-interpret sounds from shoegaze and early-'90s guitar rock. Too bad their hooks and melodies are inconsistent.
Cheatahs’ second album is full of the same things that established their sound on their first. Mythologies features walls of hazy guitars (and sometimes synths) that create an aural fog over songs that are alternately catchy or abstract. All of the comparisons to early-‘90s shoegaze and alternative guitar bands are easy to make: Dinosaur, Jr., The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine (of course) and even Sonic Youth all serve as familiar sonic touchstones. But there’s also an undercurrent of ‘90s Britpop present here: Ride and Suede and others come to mind.
Mythologies begins by sort of easing the listener in. “Red Lakes (Sternstunden)” is an easygoing mid-tempo song with a catchy little synth sound and bright but fuzzy guitar tones. The vocals come in full of reverb and harmonies, to the point where it’s tough to make out any lyrics beyond the occasional refrain of “Red lakes". The song ends with a full minute of a repeating wailing guitar figure that’s mostly buried under layers of synth chords as well as a spoken word speech in German. It’s not exactly a conventional opener, but the genial, upbeat tone of the song makes it smoother sounding than described.
The record’s second track, “Channel View”, is one of the catchiest here. Interestingly, the main guitar riff essentially serves as the song’s chorus. Vocalist Nathan Hewitt sings the verses, but lets the riff establish itself as the song’s real hook. Eventually, Cheatahs do get around to a real refrain that shows up in the middle and again near the end of the song. It’s decent, but doesn’t hold a candle to that guitar riff. Mythologies’ other standout track for catchiness is “Hey Sen”, which opens (literally opens; the vocals begin less than a second into the song) with the album title-deriving line “Let us compare mythologies". In true shoegaze fashion, the song layers traditional guitar chords on top of another guitar that’s just full of feedback. The harmonized vocals of the chorus, “Hey, Sen, be my friend” are the kind that instantly stick in your head. Whether it’s the good kind of catchy or the annoying, advertising jingle kind of catchy is up for debate.
Much of the rest of the album more closely resembles “Hey Sen” stylistically. “In Flux” has a driving beat and half-spoken verses that could pass for a track by Poster Children (now we’re going deep with ‘90s band references) but features squalling guitar work between the vocal lines. “Seven Sisters” gets spacey with its vocals, but still floats along on a bed of guitar noise. “Mysteci” goes so far as to leave the drums out for the first half the track and spotlights the echoing, delayed guitars. “Freak Waves” is a bit harder-edged in its guitar tones and drums, but still follows the template of having a relatively catchy chorus and riff to make the guitar noise more palatable.
Cheatahs do change things up from time to time on Mythologies. The mid-album duo of “Colorado” and “Su-pra” aren’t technically instrumentals, but they fundamentally operate as such. The former starts in typical fashion for the band, but after some initial lyrics, Cheatahs fully embrace the hard-hitting guitar noise and drop the vocals entirely. The back half of the track lets the distortion and drums fade away and lazily drifts along on synth chords until a repeating slot machine synth sound ushers in “Su-pra.” The band lets that repeating sound be the bedrock of the song for a full minute until re-embracing the heavily distorted guitar noise. Hewitt’s voice does show up in the back half of the song, but only as wordless color. In a way, these two tracks feel like the purest expression of what Cheatahs want to do. They don’t have to worry about making a catchy chorus or writing lyrics. They can just rock out on a couple of riffs and turn up the feedback and play.
There are also a small handful of songs that fully rely on synths. The main riff of “Signs to Lorelei” is played by a stabbing, burbling synth, but the song is the closest the album has to a poppy love ballad. The guitar noise is dialed way back for much of the song to let the synth riff and (to a lesser extent, because the vocals are always buried in the mix on Mythologies) Hewitt’s singing take the spotlight. “Deli Rome” opens with a wash of reverbed and distorted synths, then brings them back in the middle and again at the end of the song. And album closer “Reverie Bravo” uses a distorted old school video game style synth as its driving sound, to great effect.
Cheatahs are dedicated to hoarding and re-interpreting sounds from a specific period of music, and that they do a reasonably good job of it. The increased use of synths on the album shows them edging a bit towards really carving out their own style. But right now they seem content to keep mining shoegaze and non-grunge early ‘90s guitar rock. If they were able to write distinct hooks and melodies more consistently then they might begin to seem like more than the sum of their parts. But they aren’t there yet.