Noisy, gritty, grunge-stewards rock
A four-year gap between offerings looks paltry when placed beside a 20-year hiatus, or the one-time assumption that the noise-rock outfit, Cherubs, was a bright footnote in grunge history. On Immaculada High, Kevin Whitley, Owen McMahon and Brent Prager reconvene with a collection of songs that hew close to 2015’s 2 Ynfynyty, while pushing further into soundscapes that blur the edges of the individual songs. Track changes reveal themselves only through brief pauses, shifts in cadence and Prager’s conspicuous drum salvos. The result is a hard-rock album, littered with brief melodic passages and bolstered by warm, amplified tones, pushed to their limits.
The above combination would likely result in disaster in the hands of a less experienced band. Cherubs manage to blend their edgy, sneering and angry tone with a satisfying wash of sound that is powerful and aurally pleasing. The lead-off song, “Turista,” dives directly into this dynamic with a staccato drum intro—unusual for a grunge trio—broken by Whitley’s oddly melodic wail, “You’re just passing through. Turistas.” McMahon’s bass melds with guitar to the point at which they are as difficult to differentiate as the vocals are to discern.
“18 The Number,” a brief two-minute romp, accelerates the aggression with Whitley’s high-register excitement careening over rolling drums. The song, along with “Old Lady Shoe” and “Pacemaker,” serve as energetic blasts and also changes of tempo in an album dominated by more languid tracks. Fittingly, “Sooey Pig,” an album highlight, unleashes a full slurry of muddy guitar and bass mix. Whitley’s echoing distortion of guitar and vocals draw immediate attention, but can only be fully appreciated when heard against Prager’s unrelenting drumming, which rightfully features heavily in the mix.
Bass-driven “IMCG” sonically stretches out with simple lyrics and vocalizations sounding as if they were being delivered from afar. Resonant guitar soars over an indirectly-ascending progression that finally resolves with help from the ever-present Prager. It is a great example of Cherubs’ willingness to step away from brusk, crunchy grunge and experiment with slower, more melodic structures. Carefully putting these different pieces together culminates in a pair of songs that elude conventional description. “Breath U Can C” links the album’s two best vocal melodies with over-saturated sound. The loose drums and cranked-up amplifiers threaten to drift into pure noise if pushed any further but are expertly cajoled into the best song in the set. “Cry Real Wolves” follows, blending bass and drums into a throb that might be best described as industrial-pop.
“Nobodies” closes Immaculada High in more familiar territory with the trio belting out a cynical rocker at full volume. The longest song in the selection starts with raging fury and finishes with an enjoyable, arpeggiated progression replete with interspersed, distorted guitar squeals and half-chanted, half-sung vocals. As the music fades out, a couple of impressions linger. Noise-pop can be crushing, melodic and dynamic all at once and almost 30 years on, Cherubs still know how to rock.