The new Cheveu revue, comin’ right at you, shows the French trio kicking at all sides of the box they had previously occupied. I saw them play once and was really taken aback by their overtly physical performance. (I think we crowdsurfed the singer a few times, and there weren’t all that many people there — in this place Todd P was booking which was basically a concrete slab covered by a tarp, across from the sewage treatment plant in Greenpoint. I can attest that anywhere even near it is one of the worst places you could hope to live), and how they totally overclocked on such a minimal setup (singer, guitarist, guy who runs the drum machine and Casio.) That show, and the blinding rainstorm that accompanied it, have stayed with me for a while. They have played that physicality to distinctly native sensibilities — France’s unique ability to appreciate things alternate definition of rock, garage, twang, and wavoz to the realm of the untouchable. In few other places will you be able to find multi-LP vinyl box sets of mid-career Gene Vincent, case closed.
Very few of Cheveu’s records sound alike from each other, the band always having adopted a new style to push against our notions of who they are at any given time, but reliant on their own personalities and charisma as a signature. I appreciate this even when it doesn’t work — when it gets awkward (which it does — see their outtakes LP Cheveau), there’s still a common path to follow out of it.
1000 is Cheveu’s second studio album, and they’ve taken a big leap forward in presentation and songwriting, really focusing in on how much of the balance they can lean on the machines. One of the stronger decisions made on 1000 is the string trio playing on five of the songs, as this takes the pressure off the guitarist while expanding the palette even further. It works great on opener “Quattro Stagioni,” giving a light-footed beach party melody a fullness, airiness and depth that it might not have had before, and on its best songs, ideas like these are shared with one of Cheveu’s most successful traits from earlier on — turning the drum machine up to blinding speed in the choruses and bridges, and playing off the top of the measure to fill up the space and lurch the dynamics of the song, not only adding aggression but speed as well.
This technique also does something pretty interesting: it pulls the sentiments back in time to the birth of hardcore punk and Chicago industrial, carbon-dating the band itself back to an earlier era when records tended to sound as different and as groundbreaking as the best songs here. “Charlie Sheen” is one of them, and with its parochial, British/French art rock/vaguely RIO frame (I am hearing This Heat, especially in the vocals, and at least the essence of a Slapp Happy or Art Bears) in the verses, the juxtaposition is exhilarating, certainly the best song they’ve done yet, borne out of something no human drummer could do. It’s harder to deal with a few of the Zappa-esque sentiments here (particularly in the vocals), but I think after a few listens you are gonna stop worrying about any Y.B. nOrMaL tendencies via the scrutiny of your peers to their cover of “Ice Ice Baby.”
Rather than attempt to describe it, I’ll just say that I’m sure this is the point where a bunch of Cheveu’s fans jump off of their train. I’ll also say that Cheveu has the best fresh set of ideas and execution of any rock band since the Pixies, or Pere Ubu when they started, and like those bands, they require more from you to meet on their own terms. Fittingly, they wipe the floor with a great number of more established bands playing to any modern band of any renown. Whether they’ll be asked to step forward is probably up to you.
By Doug Mosurock