Listening to the full-length debut of London quartet Cheatahs, it’s tempting to see its 12 tracks as a sort of sampler platter of the best of ’90s indie guitar-rock. Strains of My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Treepeople, Built To Spill, Seam, Sugar, and Archers Of Loaf appear throughout, with Nathan Hewitt and James Wignall’s thick guitars recalling the first two most frequently. Hewitt’s vocals aren’t high in the mix and often compete with the guitars, which recalls the unpolished, lo-fi mixes of classic indie rock.
It’s tempting as well, then, to label Cheatahs as a retro act, the newest addition to a supposed wave of bands mining the ’90s for inspiration. (Silversun Pickups faced the same problem on their first two albums, though their Smashing Pumpkins comparisons were more specific.) Album standout “The Swan”—which originally appeared on last year’s EP compilation, Extended Plays—sounds familiar, its five-chord riff reminiscent of something listeners might not be able to identify immediately.
None of this dilutes the many pleasures of Cheatahs; the band hits its sweet spot squarely and burrows into it. “Northern Exposure” boasts an immensely catchy, tambourine-assisted chorus; the guitars on “Get Tight” have a booming, headphone-filling low end (ditto “Kenworth”); and “Fall” and “IV” have an atmosphere that can be described as “Kevin Shieldsian.” With the guitars front and center, and frequently overpowering the vocals, Cheatahs almost feels like a response to the apparent decline of guitar rock as the dominant sound in alternative and mainstream music. But it doesn’t feel reactionary, either. The songs come from a place of enthusiasm, not vindictiveness.
Still, they should find an easy audience with people who lived through the ’90s and miss the indie rock of yore. For those who didn’t have that experience, Cheatahs offers a gateway to a golden age, but stands well enough on its own. As much as it could be a short primer on a genre, the album works even better as one band’s first statement of purpose.