The Checks don’t need much introduction. The famous five burst upon New Zealand’s indie rock scene in the early noughties and have gone on to support The Hives, Oasis, Jet, Muse, The Killers, R.E.M, Florence and The Machine and AC/DC. Deadly Summer Sway is their third album, and it looks set to cement their reputation as the most exciting thing to ever emerge from Auckland’s North Shore.
The cover art is distant and wintry, and The Checks themselves sound older and colder. Although technically very well produced, there is a sense of space and distance on this album that makes it less engaging than it could have been. Vocals are set back in the mix, focusing attention on the chilly guitars rather than on Ed’s rather endearing vocals.
First track Dogs Of Perfection opens with arctic guitar. “Look at me, I am hollow’ moans Ed over a wash of cool cymbals and the forlorn Eastern swirl of guitars. By contrast album highlight Ready To Die begins with a groovy infectious bass line. The song sounds like a fierce duel between Oasis and Pluto but it’s the backing vocals really set this track apart – they range from throaty whispers through to sexy falsettos.
Black Frog is another song that plays with contrasts, veering between heavy guitar and lighter Caribbean moments. One Sock is also warmer, and will instantly take old Checks fans back to the sweaty all-ages gigs at The Masonic Tavern. Classic boy band “sha na na-na-nas” also really enhance this track.
The album takes a turn for a dreary with Perfect Lover, which could be straight off a Dunedin album circa 1987 and could have benefitted from a little more punch. Winter Sun sounds like it’s dragging itself out of bed to go to a job it doesn’t like. Spiders also seems like it’s on downers, but with melodies that sound a little Pulp and vocals that sound a little Matt Berninger it’s an interesting track that showcases Ed’s wide vocal range. Candyman Shimmer is a surprising loungey little number, but with Ed’s vocals once more submerged in the mix this track is unfortunately more Lazy Sunday that shamanistic trip.
The cobwebs are blown away when the growly guitars start up on Jet Plane. Beginning and ending with an American twang, the song quickly morphs into a dramatic Middle Eastern-influenced anthem. Closing track My Brother takes a melody that could have come straight from an ancient Irish street ballad and sends it hurtling into space.
Deadly Summer Sway is a solid and proficient if slightly chilly album.
Kathryn van Beek
Click here to listen to Ready To Die from Deadly Summer Sway: