THERE'S NO DOUBT that Cheatahs are students of bands who have pushed (and tugged and pulled) the guitar in interesting and, in some cases, unseemly directions. Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine come to mind. But the beauty of the London-based four-piece's self-titled debut is that these blokes are in complete control of their instruments. And the possibilities seem endless.
"I can definitely see the My Bloody Valentine," says guitarist/vocalist James Wignall from the London office of their label, Wichita Recordings. "I'm not trying to do a Kevin Shields—there's no point in that. To me the history of art is a continual conversation, and it's about putting it through your own filter."
Wignall is the British contingent of Cheatahs, whose members, guitarist/vocalist Nathan Hewitt, bassist/vocalist Dean Reid, and drummer Marc Raue, hail from Canada, the US, and Germany, respectively. The band came together in 2012, although Hewitt and Wignall go back eight years, when they first met in Camden.
Last year saw hints of a new record with a few scattered singles here and there, but a lengthy touring schedule put it on hold. Released this month, Cheatahs stands on its own, its guitars both comfortably familiar and strikingly innovative. The album's best moments come when the band shows some teeth, letting their razor-sharp guitars cut through on scorchers like "The Swan" and "Get Tight."
"I think at heart we're a punk band, because there is an urgency," Wignall says. "An ambient punk band, if that makes any sense."
That's a pretty accurate descriptor, if you choose to use one. Cheatahs played these songs live for the better part of five months, and the band tweaked things as necessary and recorded the entire album themselves. Wignall jokes that they eventually strong-armed their bassist to master it.
You can't argue with the results. But this is only a snapshot. Wignall says he's had some downtime to come up with new song ideas, and tinker with different tunings and sounds. "I'm excited about where we can take guitar music," he says. "But part of the fun is not knowing quite where we're going."