Planet of sound

The Cast of Cheers - Family

(Schoolboy Error )

I WILL never forget the first time I saw The Cast of Cheers. They were playing a support slot at the Róisín Dubh one Thursday evening - and something rare happened.

Whoever was the headliner that day has disappeared from memory because The Cast of Cheers blew them off the stage. It is very few support acts who achieve that. They had energy, intensity, and passion. They also had skill, ability, technical prowess, and imagination - the best of both worlds.

In a landscape where the knotty riffs and skittering rhythms of post-rock have become a tired cliché, rehashed almost beyond redemption, here was a very young band, who took post-rock, allied it with song structures, and grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, gave it a much, much, needed kick up rear, and made it sound interesting again.

I was even more impressed, when afterwards talking to the band’s drummer Kevin, he told me they had only been together for about four months and had played just a handful of gigs.

Only their Ulster counterparts And So I Watch You From Afar (just ) surpass them. Let me put it this way, I’d rather The Cast of Cheers and ASIWYFA to Explosions in the Sky or 65daysofstatic any day.

What a bonus then that their debut album Chariot was available as a free download on Bandcamp! However the deserved excitement over the band obscured the fact that Chariot was a pale shadow of what the quartet was able to do on stage. By comparison to their blood, sweat, and tears shedding live shows, Chariot was restrained, polite, tame. It showed a band with potential, but was in no way a definitive statement.

It is deeply frustrating then that second album, Family, suffers from the same problems. The Cast... play with urgency and there are some impressive guitar moments, but it all sounds bloodless.

One of the chief problems is that the guitars have no real prominence in the mix, and sound weak, anaemic, almost apologetic for their presence, draining the music of its chief driving force.

Opening track ‘Family’ starts with a repeated ascending riff that recalls Judas Priest and Steve Vai and within an indie context sounds fresh and thrilling, but once the song gets into its stride, the guitars retreat to the rear, unable to convey the power and attack at the heart of this song which yearns to cut loose .

Family is littered with songs that have so much potential but the passion and technical skill is either obscured or unrealised by everything sounding far too economical and gentle for its own good.

The Cast... have no need to indulge in Emerson, Lake & Palmer style excess or to crank it up to a Nigel Tufnell approved 11. The songs have enough potential within them that requires no extra dressing. However to do them justice the quartet needs to be let off the leash and play with the same ferocity they do on stage.

A case in point is ‘Animals’, where the Thin Lizzy styled harmony guitars at the end, instead of soaring and creating a climax, sound almost embarrassed to be there. Meanwhile ‘Trucks At Night’ and ‘Goose’, which should be signature songs for the band (even at this early stage ) almost treat the guitars as errant children to be kept in line - but agan, this is a band where the guitar is central to what they do.

The Cast of Cheers are a genuinely talented, exciting, and indeed necessary presence on the Irish (and international ) indie scene, but the deserved welcome they have received from audiences has led to their albums being proclaimed as wonderful simply because the band is. One does not necessarily follow the other.

On stage these songs will sound like the most exciting thing you will hear all year and it is live that the true worth of Family will finally reveal itself, but as before the band has yet to capture in studio what they sound like on stage.

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