Cheyenne: The Whale

This Brooklyn quartet offers a confident and straightforward take on indie rock on its sophomore album.


The Whale

Label: self released
US Release Date: 2007-12-11
UK Release Date: Available as import

Cheyenne has, following the dreams of thousands of young musicians before them, relocated from small-town Oklahoma to big-city Brooklyn and written a sophomore record. This represents a small triumph on the part of the band, to continue existing in the wake of a troubled period of personnel changes and so on, but you’d never guess it from listening to The Whale. The record is confident and straightforward, never doubting for a second that its country-infused brand of indie rock is more or less familiar, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The best song on the album is the opening song and title track. "The Whale" opens with a kind of whale-like sound, I suppose, a bit of dissonance between cello and digging strings giving way to a Sufjan Stevens-esque piano ostinato and full orchestral folk backing. There's a sense of urgency to the lyrics – "The stories are kinda dangerous / So burn the pages as you read" – which suits the song's driving propulsion. “It’s really your guts that let you breathe”, vocalist Beau Jennings growls at the song’s climax. Well, not really: it’s your diaphragm that lets you breathe, and the gradient established with the depressed intrathoracic pressure caused by the expansion of the respiratory muscles. OK fine, his version’s more romantic. Whoever turned to music for a physiology lesson, anyway?

If the band can’t quite match the dark thrust of the opening through the rest of the album, it’s not a huge surprise – the bar was set rather high. What’s revealed over the course of The Whale, is that, though the band has a gift for attractive melody and is technically more than proficient, they’re still searching for their definitive sound. In order for the group to really break into the mainstream, it’s going to have to discover a stronger sonic footprint than the bit-from-here, bit-from-there feeling of The Whale. Collaboration’s all well and good (the record features a host of local and Oklahoman musicians in a heartening display of Midwest collegiality), but in order for it to be entirely successful there needs to be a strong, recognisable voice in charge. Cheyenne are still hovering on the edge of that voice.

Accordingly, the sound of the album swings from straightforward stadium rock to country twang, through Radiohead-influenced art rock and Nick Cave-style romanticism. None of this is a bad thing, necessarily, and with each new style the group brings a graceful interpretation. But I was left with the feeling that these mainstream song structures weren’t really capturing the band’s potential. The band’s at its best when it embraces menace and atmosphere. “Cimarron River”, faintly reminiscent of Ryan Adams, is a neat showcase of songwriting chops. Soaked in sorrow, the second verse explodes with a new drum beat, building atmosphere in an effective, if conventional, manner.

One thing that is clear is that Jennings has the particular way with phrases that is the mark of classic singer-songwriters. On “That Was the Ghost”, he paints a lasting image over a melancholy saxophone melody: “There’s a wooden porch, watch it rise and fall / As the ground below breathes in and out”. Throughout, his dour voice doesn’t have the emotional impact of the National’s Matt Berninger, but then again his imagery isn’t as opaque, so the intention’s obviously different.

Occasionally, when Cheyenne veer away from the rock end of things and into balladry, you get the sense of a deep longing to be in the middle of nowhere. This could be a powerful emotive force to tap, but the imitation of sheets of rain, e.g., in “This is the Fashion”, come off as a bit obvious. The band demonstrates it can get it right, though, on “The Curtain”, a weary picture of after-hours suburbia – complete emptiness.

The Whale is short and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Though this makes its impact somewhat transient, the album is nonetheless well executed and contains some noteworthy songs. If you’re still in doubt, the final, gorgeous ostinato of “Cotton Beach” – fragile arpeggios, sweet-squeezed harmonica – should be enough to convince you: Cheyenne’s made the big move, and will be around.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.