Album Review: Leader Cheetah ‘The Sunspot Letters’

I first was introduced to these guys when I saw The Middle East (whose song ‘Blood’ inspired the title of this blog) play live a few months ago. After the encore, The Middle East said that they had been touring for a while with these longtime mates of theirs, who were also in a band, and that they were going to cover one of their songs next.

The cover was good, but nothing special really, or at least not after their enchanting, hypnotic rendition of ‘Blood’. The band they were referring to was, of course, Leader Cheetah. I didn’t give much thought to it, until I saw who would be opening the Liam Finn gig I had tickets to last month. So I like to think that fate led me to Leader Cheetah.

And they were really good opening for Liam Finn. They had the whole crowd entertained and intrigued, which is of course no easy task for an opening act. They had a way of playing relaxed folk music that demanded your attention more than any head-banging metal music ever could, in a very similar way to their mates The Middle East.

But this is an album review, so let me introduce Leader Cheetah’s debut album ‘The Sunspot Letters’, which was actually released in March, but has only started to gain attention recently as the band tour around the country. I’ll get the inevitable comparison to Neil Young out of the way immediately: yes, Leader Cheetah’s lead singer Dan Crattich sounds quite a bit like him. Okay, done.

The album in its entirety reflects Leader Cheetah’s live show in being eerily appealing. This  really is gorgeously layered folk music. The lead single and live favourite ‘Bloodlines’ encapsulates this perfectly, with the constant backing of an acoustic guitar combining firstly with Crattich’s surreal vocals, secondly with a distorted electric guitar, and finally with a driving drum beat. It is almost as if one layer is being added to the song at a time, only to be peeled away again at its conclusion.

Just like The Middle East, Leader Cheetah’s lyrics are not immediately comprehensible or understandable, for example in ‘Bloodlines’ the words “And our blood is an acronym” have confused many an Australian-music-forum-goer. Leader Cheetah have revealed in an interview that the song is in fact about moments of temporary realisation, where everything makes sense, if only for a while. How this relates to blood being an acronym is anyone’s guess.

The album unfortunately seems to drag on a bit towards the end, and at about 50 minutes, is a decently sized debut for a folk outfit. I hesitate to say that Leader Cheetah’s recorded material does not do their live show justice, but it certainly seems that this album is missing just that little bit of extra magic that is so easy to see at their gigs.  Maybe this will come in time, or maybe it is just natural that an experience as utterly personal as their live show can never fully be captured in electronic form.

Whatever the case, The Sunspot Letters is certainly a strong debut, and is worthy of praise and attention. If you are after a new Aussie band to see on tour then these guys come strongly recommended, or if you are just waiting for The Middle East’s debut album, then this one can certainly tide you over for a while, and in quite a nice way as well.

Listen if you like: The Middle East, Neil Young, Mumford And Sons, Josh Pyke, Bob Evans, wondering what on earth b.l.o.o.d. stands for

Album rated: 7/10

Artist: Leader Cheetah

Song: Bloodlines

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