Posted on August 12th, 2009 (10:29 am) by Katherine Parks

For the past several years, The Checks have flown mysteriously under the radar, despite extensive touring support for such acts as The Hives, R.E.M., Oasis, and The Killers. Hailing originally from New Zealand, Edward Knowles, Callum Martin, Sven Petterson, Jacob Moore, and Karel Chabera Jr. have managed to make their love for blues and modern rock mesh together beautifully, even as a currently unsigned act. On their latest release, Alice By The Moon, The Checks deliver their usual, pulse-pounding, energy, and nothing less. If you are a fan of these guys, check this album out to add to your library, and if you are just hearing about them, give them a listen; their sound is really cool.

On “Back of the Restaurant”, Knowles and his Checks cohorts sound eager to have a midnight jam session at the corner diner, or else someone really just wants to “get down in the back of the restaurant.” And let’s not forget Chabera on this track—his bass playing sets the tone and presents you with something delicious to listen to. Undoubtedly, on “Restaurant”, as well as throughout Alice By The Moon, The Checks demonstrate how surprisingly well certain sounds work together, and how pushing aural boundaries can be fun as well as interesting. These guys work their magic with just about everything ranging from an old, ‘70s-sounding tambourine to some ‘90s grunge riffs, and even throw in a trumpet here and there. I believe it is fair to say that these guys present an organic sound on their new album; they fervidly try to avoid becoming distracted with anything too modernized or electronic (don’t count those distortion pedals!), which here works clearly to their advantage.

“Any Man Here Will Run You In” is a crystal-clear example of how The Checks work their harmonic, blues charm. With Knowles’ harmonized, gospel-like vocals set against a guitar seething with Jimi Hendrix flair and Moore’s slow wash of drums, this track is hard to miss, and stands out against “Restaurant”. The way Knowles belts out the lyrics “meet me in the early morning, darling, meet me in the early morn,” and does his vocal cymbal imitation just adds more depth to their style and class to their sound. Here is yet another track showing how the sound can begin soft and down-tempo, but becomes a schizophrenic frenzy of instruments by the end (think a slightly less eccentric Flaming Lips meets The Hives meets a group of Southern, soulful male vocalists).

“Take a picture in a bucket of tears, and help yourself to the rain, dear,” croons Edward Knowles on “You and Me”. Seems kind of bittersweet, doesn’t it? Knowles has a really intriguing way of presenting beauty and heartbreak (and the potential beauty of heartbreak) through his unique vocal expressions and lyrical intonations. On this track, in particular, The Checks’ energetic blues tendencies emanate visibly through Martin’s and Petterson’s soulful, yet inescapably mournful, guitar strumming. Chabera, not far behind, delivers an inescapable bass sound, and sets the tone for the four-minute installment. With the addition of Moore on drums and some sort of a tambourine set in the background, “You and Me” is a great example to show how this five-piece group just works.

“Isabella” has an evident modern edge, but is caked with the vivacity of ska and some ridiculously fun dance vibes. Here is another fine example of The Checks’ undoubted musical versatility and genius. “Isabella” starts out with a sort of punk-rock tone and a toe-tapping guitar. Taking into account The Checks’ notoriety for creating a fantastic live performance, I simply cannot see how “Isabella” would not make it onto a show setlist; I think it would be a sure favorite of the people in the pit. The Checks have been compared to The Hives, as well as fellow New Zealanders, The Datsuns, and it is really not difficult to understand why. With their high energy, skillful playing and the sound they create as a quintet, The Checks leave no stone unturned on “Isabella”, nor on Alice By The Moon as a whole. All things considered, “Isabella” is a fantastically fun, musically diverse track, and great music to bob your head to.

To break it all down, Alice By The Moon is a fitting next chapter of The Checks’ discography. On tracks like “Hold My Head,” the group’s borderline ska and retro tendencies really come out of the woodwork to help shape their uncanny sound. On the tracks where their Hives-esque sound wanes, The Checks deliver a sound that is reminiscent of contemporary jam-bands. Taking into consideration how stellar their live show is hailed to be, I would expect great things from these guys, should they tour in support of their newest album. With the guitar talents of Petterson and Martin alongside Moore’s drums and Chabera’s bass to create a quartet consisting of solid, pure musicianship. Knowles’ varied and velvety vocals are just icing on top of an already delicious cake. Again, those of you who are already fans of this New Zealand group will enjoy this record. And for those of you just tuning in, well, keep listening—you might just discover something delightful.

The Checks released Alice By The Moon independently on June 8, 2009, and is available for purchase through their site, www.thechecks.net and iTunes New Zealand.

Track List:
1.Bagheera (4:45)
2.You and Me (4:27)
3.Crows (3:29)
4.Ballroom Baby (3:28)
5.Back of the Restaurant (3:15)
6.Any Man Here Will Run You In (3:24)
7.God Birds (3:55)
8.Till the Dance Is Over (3:16)
9.Isabella (4:01)
10. Get Off the Stage Man (3:16)
11.Let Your Lover Know (4:13)
12.Wait in the Summer (3:43)
13.Hold My Head (4:57)

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

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