Two men walk into a bar: so starts the story of Cheatahs, a band formed from the friendship of Camden barmen Nathan Hewitt and James Wignall. 8 years on and through Witchita Records we have their self-titled debut album and a lot to be grateful for. Whilst the world of music journalists are either mourning the death of guitar-lead music or bemoaning the amount of guitar-lead bands cropping up and casting them aside due to their influences, all the above arguments are just background noise when an album is as unabashed and noisy as Cheatahs’ first.
Every time a band comes through with guitars that can be described as ‘sun-kissed’, ‘warped’ or ‘fuzzy’, the Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo et al comparisons are instantly drawn and whilst this certainly does apply to Cheatahs, they leave the naval-gazing to the more pretentious. Instead the bright guitar bursts on opening track proper ‘Geographic’ and thrilling chug of ‘Get Tight’ serve to strike a chord rather than drag the listener through distortion for the sake of it, with the reverb-heavy background tuneful instincts of Hewitt requiring a few listens to sink in. ‘Leave To Remain’ and ‘Cut The Grass’ ride choppy waves of guitar and punchy drums to burn through the band’s musical etymology and leave you eager to go and witness the band live rather than list their influences. Cheatahs aren’t a one-note or one-tempo band however; ‘Fall’ has some spiralling, intoxicating guitar work and coasts on breezing interplay, ‘Mission Creep’ lifts a cracking vocal line from the fog and ‘IV’ has a seductively woozy alchemy.
The album highlight and EP leftover ‘The Swan’ sits as the album’s centrepiece and standout track: a bouncy, life-affirming number the melds buzzsaw guitars to the melodic eagerness of early Feeder. Today’s bands have a vast pool of previous shredders to draw from and when a band is able to meld the notoriously introverted haze of late ‘80s alt-rock to the skatepark-friendly energy of ‘00s guitar music we’re seeing a band twist history to their own exciting merit. When a record as steeped in alternative rock history as Cheetahs manages to amount to much more than the sum of its parts and feel imaginatively new and visceral it’s cause for celebration and this debut record is just that.