Cheekface – Therapy Island

Track five of thirteen on Cheekface’s debut album is called ‘House Shoes’. There, almost in the middle of the sequence is a slow crawl. Coming in at one minute and twenty-seven seconds it’s the shortest song on the album. Apart from one time when he says ‘Okay‘ Singer Gregg Katz mumbles nothing but the words “House Shoes” over and over. This isn’t the only high point in an album of many peaks – but it does unlock something of Cheekface’s thinking. It shows the attention to production detail.

Bassist Amanda Tannen’s whispering of “House Shoes” draws attention beneath the surface. Her voice punctuates Katz’s thinking. This isn’t a stage-whisper but a genuine up-close, breathy whisper. Her voice comes from one side, and then the other, and then the center. We cannot escape the thought. The phrase compels everything. Mark Edwards drives from the kit – there are plenty of splash cymbals. A low-grade psychedelia underpins the track. Drums take the lead, and then it’s a noodling guitar. Katz’s voice is perfectly detached, but also fixated, and fixating. Are we resigned to the hunt for house shoes? Are we trapped wearing house-shoes – derelict through depression, anxiety, or some kind of unpleasant recreation. The track comes to a sudden jolt. It’s over. Fuck, it’s a perfect song.

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The handling of ‘House Shoes’ shows the investment, and music-nerdery that the three-piece place into all aspects of writing, recording, and process. It is, time-wise, a small song. It is loved and clipped like a bonsai. Everything this band does is loved and clipped like a bonsai. There’s the celebration of the natural, authentic self – and then there is the art. It’s all happening, simply. Deeply.

We’ve been listening to Cheekface since the drop of their first single, ‘Glendale’, which, of course features here. A courageous deployment of cowbell, a chugging guitar, and a deadpan catalog of shit being in retrograde. “Being sober is cool now.” is noted. There’s a personal socio-political compass that spins in search of north, here, and most obviously on tracks like ‘Dry Heat/Nice Town’. ‘Dry Heat/Nice Town’ being a song, like all good songs that help us recognize ourselves, and others as loathsome and lovable in equal, complex measure. It’s also a song with one of the best choruses of the decade. Replace all the Kool Aid with Cheekface’s “green juice”

Katz has said that Therapy Island was written and recorded when he was hurting, but that he had fun in the making of these songs. As if the album title wasn’t enough, it’s the gravity of lyrical content that shares a deeply personal landscape.

Offering up a string of observations, side-swipes, celebrations and laments Cheekface oscillate between humor and heartbreak. Again – just like real life – most things occupy more than one emotional space at a time. There’s an avant-punk element that can be felt in sensibility, if not always the sound. Like that first wave of artists, teetering at the fringes of punk rock, there’s something of dissatisfaction and celebration about Cheekface.

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The sequencing of tracks reflect a season of therapy. Not in any explicit sense. But issues come, they are addressed, and placed a in scale and context of the preceding and following thoughts. All this shit is related. Songs aren’t so much islands, but pockets of air in a capsized vessel. Things may be fucked – (late capitalism, amaright?) – but there are moments of beauty, and human scale relief from which we may be able to rebuild. Fill your lungs and get on with it – the fight for your life, your sanity, your whatever.

Closing track ‘Once a Day’ reads like a poetic log of a psych-assessment. We’re assured that the narrator has a grip of things. Bad feelings are held in check; restored to proportionate scale of suffering. We couldn’t end an album of this kind without a band of this kind putting shape and a forward-facing momentum onto things. There’s no time for self-pity. It’s never been about that.

It’s hard to describe the type of ambition that Cheekface display. Meticulous attention to detail, poetic craft, and an approach to production that honors hard-earned know-how over easier modern techniques. This is a band who appears to have no concern for winning. They simply want to play a beautiful game. The paradox, of course, is that by playing a beautiful game they win. In that regard Therapy Island is a flawless victory.

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