Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Auckland's Checks could easily have sat on their Sixties rhythm and blues-based style (think young Stones, Yardbirds, Who etc) and won themselves a wide audience, but they were always destined for something bigger than the familiar.
Now 10 years on from their first but enormously impressive gigs as teenagers (I think I first saw them in a kitchen at a flat?) they have shifted their ground considerably and you have to admire a band which has that much confidence.
Their last album Alice by the Moon came after a difficult foray into the UK but as the Elsewhere review noted, it didn't sound like "the difficult second album". It also didn't give itself up quite as easily as their debut Hunting Whales, but was the stronger for that. They sounded like a band ready to learn from the past but live in the heady present.
There were a lot of diverse musical threads on that album, but there are even more on Deadly Summer Sway where the moods run from Led Zeppelin crunch through an intro which sounds shamelessly stolen from the Doobie Brothers (on the hugely poppy One Sock, check it out) to the unexpected foray into dub-rock (the lead-off single Candyman Shimmer which seemed designed to announce "hope you like our new direction").
Well, aside from the limp and overlong Perfect Lover (a lyric ill-deserving of the gloriously shimmering guitar backdrop), this is an interesting and rewarding new direction which marries elements of their past with excellent production and points to numerous possibilities, not all of them fully realised however.
The ballad Winter Sun however -- on a second and third hearing -- comes home beautifully as having its ears on classic Fifties pop melodies, the Beach Boys, effortless Sixties folk-rock and the first Flying Nun-era equally, but delivered with all the romantic ennui of the anything on alt.radio right now. It's a slow growing gem, and again elevated by the guitars (slide and 12-string taking it home in the final two of its six-plus minutes).
Elsewhere they stomp like Zeppelin (Black Frog, ho ho ho), bring in a funky disco bassline (Ready to Die which finds its crunch in the chorus) and come over like folkies force-fed Seventies heavy rock on Jet Plane. All are repeat play growers.
They close with the eight an a half minute My Brother which again picks up the dark and menacing end of folk balladry for a epic of increasing emotional and sonic density stabbed by producer Bob Brockman on Hammond. It is a piece of immense maturity, and reminds you again that the Checks are now a decade and three albums into a career.
Most unexpected, even in this diverse company, is Candyman Shimmer with its loping reggae and dub effects, which few would have expected from the band that made that debut Hunting Whales. But it's also closer to Manchester trip-rock of the Nineties than the customary reggae tropes which inflict so many New Zealand bands -- and the cannoning production both pulls it up into the foreground while hauling you down into its wide open spaces. Quite a trip along the moonlight mile where there are riders on the storm.
As with Alice by the Moon, the Checks have made an album to live with and immerse yourself into rather than one which delivers easily digestible rock.
And, again as with Alice, this one -- 45 minutes of repeat-play -- is like a gift that just keeps giving.
FOR OTHER 'BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011' ALBUMS GO HERE.
Check the interesting career retrospective doco which starts below AND Ed Knowles, singer with the Checks, answers the Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire here.