The long-awaited new psych/prog rock album, Cardinal Directions, by Cheer is here! Huzzah! I would add, "and the peasants rejoice", however, as much as I consider Cheer YYC rock royalty, they are anything but elitist.
In fact, Gus Rendell (guitar, vocals, drums, synthesizer, mellotron), noted that during the making of the album the band used "as much inexpensive and accessible gear as [they] possibly could", leading to some challenges in workflow when amps and recording equipment acted up along the way. Rendell's comments reminded me immediately of the conversation we had following my having edited the first photographs I ever took of Cheer at a show at Koi Calgary in March 2019. I noticed they had stuck masking tape across the heads of their guitars with the word "guitar" scrawled in sharpie on them. Upon inquiring I found out the point they were making was that expensive gear is not required to make good music. The guitar brands did not matter to them. They wanted to be the opposite of equipment snobs. While some of the gear used during recording did create hurdles at times, the band came out with an astonishing set of 8 tracks. Craftsmanship and creativity far outweigh the desire for shiny gadgets, which speaks highly towards the approach and spirit of the band in general.
Though Cheer fans (ahem me) may have been eagerly awaiting the release of more Cheer tunes for what feels like a while, Rendell did note that they intentionally took their time with this project as, "Time and Space", their previous release, "was made on a very concrete deadline, so learning and going slow felt like the right thing a lot of the way" with this record. Rendell, "[carries] a lot of weight in the engineering/recording department" and noted that mixing was "a long process of trial and error which [he] learned a lot from", in the attempt to get the sound just right. I would say they have achieved that goal. The album quality more than justifies the wait.
Recorded as a three-piece, Cardinal Directions features, Rendell, as noted above, as well as Dylan Gibbs (guitar, drums, vocals, shaker), and Lyndon Lalonde (bass, vocals, guitar, chajchas). Having a novel approach to most things as a band, the members are fluid in their roles, with Rendell and Gibbs switching back and forth from guitar to drums, and the lead in vocals rotating amongst all three depending on the song. This has always made their stage shows exciting, however, they were able to even further flex their multi-instrumentality on the recorded tracks.
Opening with "Build Up", the first single, the listener is thrust into a world of thoughtfully orchestrated guitar, ascending in density and vigor through the track, juicy deep vocals almost primal in power via Lalonde, rich harmonies, and crashing cymbals. The rhythm and tone switch gears significantly as you head into track 2, "Future Human", with Gibbs at the vocal forefront and drums heavily featured. You will not find two Cheer songs that sounds alike. Despite the careful artistry Cardinal Directions is an album oozing with dynamism, and the best kind of musical vivacity. Cheer manages to walk the fine line between quality and rawness in order to create something of both impact and elegance.
The third track, "Mirror" has a strong retro vibe and psychedelic styling, with a guitar sound I can only describe as feeling akin to a spooky grainy analogue photograph in tone. As you can imagine, with song titles such as "Crazy Boy" and "Madness" the lyrics contained in the album tackle introspection, self-awareness, and some very human struggles with everyday reality. "Dusk to Dawn", for example, examines the repetition of daily routine and perhaps a sense of monotony marking the passage of time. The subject takes the listener through their schedule until they "pass out with a kiss goodbye to the day" only to re-awaken to another, as attested to in the vocal lament by Rendell mid song.
While "Prelude" provides a zen moment prior to "Madness", the final track and second single, "A Vessel for Souls", sends the listener off into the ether with an existential rock lullaby that crescendos into guitar distortion and then drops to serenity at the last few moments. The arrangements and harmonies are magical throughout the entirety of the record, whilst leaving space for dystopian sensations and mental tension.
Cardinal Directions is a musical journey, one which is different with every single listen. Similar, if not so much in style as in emotional adaptability, to the music of bands like Pink Floyd and the Cramps, Cheer's music has a chameleon ability to reflect the listener's current mood and inner musings. The tracks contain their own identity, while also having an uncanny interactive capacity that brings together musician and listener, which may be part of why Cheer is so memorable as a band.
Future Cheer performances will include new fourth member, Ethan Muzychka, so hopefully shows can resume soon (being mindful of safety of course)!
Available today via streaming platforms such as Bandcamp, with a CD release on the horizon, check out Cardinal Directions or connect to Cheer on social media via the links below: