For all that precision and for all that NME-ready style, in their best moments Cheatahs make you want to flip through all the right memories. Extended Plays is two EPs pasted together; the latter, Coared, recorded before the first, and what sets Cheatahs apart from their conspicuously-worn influences has mostly to do with tempo and song structure. A sense of early British shoegaze gives it a bit of an edge, but Extended Plays is a pop album, and one that doesn’t suffer for the pasting. The production is clean and the melodies easy, like Swervedriver does Slowdive.
If that all sounds so diagnostic, call me jaded. The British might just have a better nose for craftsmanship than this overstimulated American. If it were 40 degrees warmer and I had a car, it would probably be on rotation for at least a while. But it’s hard to shake the impression that passion trumps ambition here. Extended Plays is effortless in all the best ways — shoegaze lyrics ought to be effortless — but also a few in the worst. At this point, it’s hard to keep buying into this romance-as-vacation, Great Escape, running-away love story that seems to infect so much of the more banal alternative music since the 1990s. I mean, you can’t really argue with a lyric like, “Take me cross the coastal border/ Fill my lungs with English sun/ You’re the one that I’ve been after/ It’s been so long, been so long” (“Fountain Park”), right?
But haven’t they heard Springsteen killed that whole trip after he heard about Charles Starkweather?
The referents are vague — that 90s hold-your-lover-between-you-and-the-world trope, nostalgia for “north buck ‘84” (“Coared”) — but there’s very little else to connect the band to. There’s just a vague sense of Zeitgeisty familiarity. All four members hail from different places; England, Germany, Canada, and the USA. The cover of the SANS EP is yet another triangle. This one’s not so occult, though, with a realistically-rendered tangle of wires inside, suggesting it ain’t ether in Cheatahs bloodstream, just electricity. So they’re at least more honest than most of the would-be mystics with similar enthusiasm for the shape.
And it’s honest music, too; like water, it finds the shortest path downhill — more melodic than your average grunge revival act, more adventuresome with the filters and effects. If you think the biggest problem with alternative music is that it isn’t given over enough to its whims, this is the band for you. Even their pickup lines exude music-geekdom: “Do you wanna come inside/ I’ve got loads of 45s” (“Coared”).
If their honest ambition is to play music like this, Cheatahs are good at it, and there’s certainly an audience out there. Given the somewhat surprising amount of buzz and expectation, they might even find it. But this isn’t the album to make if you’re going for the audience it seems like they’re going for. It’s frontloaded with the single first (“The Swan”), goes through the more polished second EP, then onto the less polished first, which, combined with the general sameyness of the songs, can be tedious.
But who needs audiences anyway? I’ll be here waiting when Cheatahs decide to alienate them.