by Ryan Allen (@nubroozes)
By 1992 Brad Laner was tired of the guitar. Or at least, tired of it in the traditional sense. Taking cues, perhaps, from other likeminded six-string noise mongers like Robin Guthrie (he of crazy hair, and also Cocteau Twins fame) and Kevin Shields (pretty sure you know this dude), Laner - the brainchild behind underrated American shoegazers Medicine - plugged his axe into his Yamaha 4 track, and a whole new world opened up. Instead of a soft jangle or a echoey glimmer, the mixture between the crude analog warble of the tape and the distorted sounds coming out of his amp turned his guitar’s bell-like notes into sonic bolts of lightning. Power chords all of a sudden seemed dinosaur-ish, replaced by something that sounded like wind chimes being run through a vacuum cleaner. Not since Thurston Moore violently wedged a drum stick between his strings had a guitar sounded so unique.
Listening to Mythologies - the new long player by London-based gazers Cheatahs - it’s easy to presume that guitarists Nathan Hewitt and Marc Raue had the same revelation that Laner had back in ’92. See, prior to Mythologies (and the few EPs that preceded it) Cheatahs were well on their way to etching out a nice little niche as a grunge-informed shoegaze act with a keen sense of melody and aggression. Songs like the undeniably catchy “The Swan” and “Coared” (from their compilation EP Extended Plays) nodded to obvious influences like Swervedriver, as well as maybe not-so-obvious ones like “Smeared”-era Sloan and Eric’s Trip. And truth be told, Cheatahs were pretty damn good at what they were doing, counter balancing bendy-note shoegaze tropes with a power-pop edge that made for a stress-free and snackable version of the genre.
But when they released their self-titled debut full length in 2014, it seemed like every band and their brother had begun to adopt similar shoegaze-y antics, with typical calling cards of the genre starting to seep into everything from electronica to emo. So what’s a band like Cheatahs to do? Luckily on Mythologies, it’s let a load of new influences through the door. The resulting album makes for a satisfying left turn from where fans of the first EP may have thought they’d end up.
So where to start? Well first, it must be acknowledged that there is a massive Medicine influence on this album. Luckily for Cheatahs, Medicine will forever be an underrated, and even for fans of the genre, an unrecognizable band - so to the uniformed, some of this stuff actually sounds pretty groundbreaking. Cheatahs adopt Laner’s guitar-as-synth approach, and there’s a myriad of moments on Mythologies where the band stretch the limits of what a guitar is “supposed” to sound like. It’s impressive, and adds tons of character to an album that may otherwise fall into cliche too easily. In addition to the Medicine worship, they comfortably weave modern rock (Tame Impala, Deerhunter), electronic (Aphex Twin), classic indie (Stereolab, Trans Am), and classic classic (The Beatles) influences into an enjoyable pastiche of psychedelic-tinged, kraut-informed dream pop that is ultimately a good look for the band.
All in all, it’s encouraging to see a band - in the midst of a melee of hardcore and emo bands mellowing out and putting flange on everything - pursue some kind of alternative to a well mined sound. One of the pitfalls of adopting elements of shoegaze into your palate is ultimately the short list of influences - whether it’s a no-brainer like My Bloody Valentine, or something a little less familiar like Drop Nineteens. Unless you bank left when it’s expected that you continue your path right, it’s inevitable that you’re going to fit squarely in a box. So good on Cheatahs for pivoting; it’s not a hard left (there’s still elements of what made them so likable in the first place present), but it’s a welcome change that opens the door for creating even more of their own mythologies in the future.