Review of Cheekface “Too Much to Ask”

“If you think I suck, would you keep it to yourself?” Greg Katz sings about 40 seconds in Cheekface’s new album. It won’t be necessary; LA’s quirky, talkative, jubilant trio get better with each outing. They also arrive quickly: too much to askreleased as a surprise today, is the band’s third album in just over three years after 2019’s therapy island and 2021 Definitely not. Together, they portray an increasingly confident unity with a distinctly polarizing point of view.

Cheekface is a love or hate proposition, thanks in large part to Katz’s lyrics and vocals. From a purely sonic standpoint, this is eminently accessible music: fun, danceable, no-frills indie rock, built from little more than Katz’s guitar, Amanda Tannen’s bass and drums by Mark “Echo” Edwards. But these tracks become the canvas for an unbroken barrage of quoted banter, sculpted into catchy outbursts where playfulness and sarcasm collide. I imagine their live show is a party. I can also imagine some listeners being overwhelmed or annoyed by how much of it is too hyper-referential, which is really a feature and not a bug.

Katz takes big swings. Undeterred by the risk of gnashing his teeth, he ponders the absurdities of modern life while he oscillates between loose screeds and passionate howls. He has a way of making tongue-in-cheek social criticism feel like fearless vulnerability, like the “THIS IS FINE” meme comes to life. In fact, the chorus “All is well!” factors heavily into “We need a bigger dumpster” – because life has become even more of a dumpster fire – between descriptions of sick people coughing on each other and conspiracy theories facetious about bottled water that makes you thirsty.

Katz tends to disguise even his progressive colleagues: “Ask your therapist who you’re going to vote for.” However, he reserves a disarming tenderness for the outsiders of society: “For the garbage collector, election day remains garbage day anyway. (Both sentences emphasize how often politics is subtly exercised over too much to ask between winks to Tinder and so on.) Yet even when he expresses some sort of clear sentiment, he’s usually entangled in meme-conversational comedy: “I’m standing in Wendy’s drive-thru in shouting, ‘Fuck all the transphobes!'” he declares on “Pledge Drive,” before a blurry voice responds, “Sir, it’s a Wendy’s.”

Although talk-singing has been all the rage for a few years now, Katz’s sprechgesang isn’t quite in line with critically acclaimed UK bands like Dry Cleaning and Squid. Cheekface’s closest corollary across the pond is probably Sports Team or maybe, if you squint, Wet Leg. But Katz mostly harkens back to national influences long before the current zeitgeist, confusing 2020s culture with a disposition informed by decades of smart, logorrheic indie dudes — guys who tend to be a lot but are mostly quite charming. to succeed. Surprisingly, he doesn’t remind me much of Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, the all-time champion in this field, but people who do equally huge personalities (and my personal favorites) come to mind.

James Murphy is an obvious parallel, especially on “Featured Singer,” a clear send-off/homage to the LCD sound system that puts the cowbell on the thick. “I want to be the lead singer of an EDM song,” Katz says. “Wedding DJs will cringe when asked/ twirl magazine, The Needle Drop, and Reader’s Digest I won’t even see it again / But the kids will choreograph elaborate dances to my voice on TikTok. (Later: “No one will walk towards her in the streets looking for a better day / But ukulele covers will invade your suggestions on YouTube.”) to contain the anxiety that crackles below the surface – especially on the tight and airy furrow of “vegan water” closer. At his funniest, he may sound like Stephen Malkmus; at his most hyperactive, he takes off like Jeff Rosenstock. We think of the first touchstones of post-punk and the new wave like Jonathan Richman, Devo and the B-52.

Because Katz so often talks rather than sings, it can be easy to overlook how good he is with the melody – or he would have be hard to miss if he didn’t begin his album with such strong, catchy, dismal lines as “Life gives you trouble, make trouble!” At times, this musicianship redeems some of his less compelling lyrical bends; “I’m at Jamba Juice / I’m at the therapist / I’m at the combination Jamba Juice and therapist” doesn’t land, but the ensuing hook “Why do I feel so weird?” certainly does. The two approaches converge nicely on “You Always Want To Bomb The Middle East,” where Katz infuses an extremely wordy chorus with a hip-swiveling surf-rock melody: “You always wanna bomb the Middle East on the weekends / When we could be mowing the grass or eating cheese with your girl/ We could learn to read and write in Portuguese or Korean/ But you still wanna bomb the Middle East.

Cheekface is more versatile than you might think, whether it’s the cutting guitar action of TV on tracks like “Pledge Drive” and “Next To Me (Yo Guy Version)” or the relaxed vibe of the anorak from Sidney Gish’s “Election Day” collab. But even when the keyboard injects surprising warmth into the groove of “Vegan Water,” Katz’s spiel steals the show. “My brain is completely full”, he announces on this one, and who could doubt him? “Can’t hurt,” he continues — a less believable sentiment, delivered jokingly like so many of Cheekface’s other lyrics. But even if too much to ask occasionally serves up loads of tracks like “Noodles” (full lyrics: “A big cup of noodles/ A giant cup of noodles”), at its best, it’s one of the smartest and smartest indie rock albums. contagious of the year.

too much to ask is out now. Buy it here.

Other albums of note released this week:

• Calvin Harris’ Funk Wav Bounces Vol 2
• OSES’ A rough shape
• Kal Marcs my name is hell
• Dust Star’s open this heart
• The eponymous debut of TOPS keyboardist Marci
• Jennifer Vanilla’s Castle in THE sky
• Heal Potpourri Heaven
• Fraud of Jay Worthy and Harry – You take the credit, we’ll take the check
• Grab’s from the mall what i breathe
• The switches In nature
• Planet Drum’s In the groove
• T Bone Burnett Invisible Light: Spells
• Gus heavy’ Notions
• Neil Young + Promise Of The Real live album and concert film Noise & Flowers
• The collection of Eminem’s greatest hits at the end of his career Curtain call 2
• The starred compilation Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson
• Chez Bobby Shmurda bodboy PE
• Jacob Sartorius’ SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD PE

Leave a Comment