written by Chris Familton
After the success of their 2009 debut The Sunspot Letters, Leader Cheetah ran the risk of ‘going big’ by building up their recordings with excess guitars and grand themes. Similarly they could have gone down the Powderfinger avenue chasing mass appeal and in the process losing some of the subtle and special musical traits that they displayed on that first LP.
The good news is that they avoided temptation to pursue either option. Instead they have remained pretty much true to their template of strong, simple songs built on eminently hummable melodies, warmth of tone and that strain of aching melancholy. To many Leader Cheetah stray too close to the middle of the road but as you get inside the songs on Lotus Skies there is a special something that marks this as a majestic album with traditional structures that are fresh, confident and full of life.
Pastoral rock (you heard it here first) sums up the overall sound of this record. It isn’t country rock per se – it doesn’t contain enough roots or southern american influence to qualify for that, yet it does take from the genre when it needs to take the sharpness off the rock edges and pull the songs back down to Earth. Our Love (featuring Holly Throsby) incorporates violin and slide and acoustic guitar to amp up the rural quota and combined with the wonderful CSN styled vocal harmonies it sounds like a lost gem from 70s west coast America.
Leader Cheetah know that to be a one trick pony would spell boredom over a whole album and so they venture into harder rock territory on songs like the winding album closer and minor epic None Shall Pass and the REM sounding Dark Stands Over. Elsewhere they head south of the US border on the title track which has the gall to take on a mariachi mood with latin horns and spanish guitar. The first thirty seconds will have you thinking “what the..?” but they make it work. They use those horns again on one of the best tracks Heart Skipped Town. With a seductive guitar line courtesy of Dan Pash that snakes around Dan Crannitch’s voice it has a magnificent chorus that lodges in your brain on repeat.
Crannitch’s voice is the most distinctive element of Leader Cheetah’s sound. He comes across like nasal hybrid of Brian Molko and Suede’s Brett Anderson with dashes of Bowie added to the mix. Emotive, dramatic and for many an acquired taste it stamps a personality on the songs that can’t be denied. He possesses that melancholic strain that bleeds emotion into the music and more importantly he knows how to use his voice, dropping to a seductive tone or soaring up to his glorious falsetto. Words sound more poetic and the dynamics of the songs are enriched when he is singing.
The first single Crawling Up A Landslide is one of the best singles to come out of Australia this year yet it is matched by a number of other tracks on Lotus Skies. Midnight Headlights opens the album with a full range of dynamics, space and even pomp in the string arrangements. Dead In A Dream is bruised romanticism wrapped around themes of day and night, dreams and reality and life and death while So Save Me gently tugs and pulls the guitars and those vocal harmonies into moving and graceful shapes.
Lotus Skies posits Leader Cheetah as one of this country’s more mature bands. There doesn’t appear to be any fear about mixing styles – popular or traditional – or any pressure to pander to current musical trends. Any tendency toward blandness is outweighed by simply superb songs that rise above the template from which they were created, making it an album that is damn hard to ignore and a pleasure in which to indulge.
this review first appeared on FasterLouder