Cheating Kay: Concept (House of Tears Sound)

“A World Without Heroes” is a troublingly beautiful song backed by an anguished-sounding guitar/drum and evoking visions of countryside churches on dirt roads. Kansas City’s Cheating Kay is a band born out of a songwriting session. Guitarist/vocalist Tom Mueller and pianist/vocalist Sarah Magill Mueller was an acoustic duo wanting to grow; guitarist Curt Cuscino was double-banding already. Then Mueller and Cuscino sat down to write together, decided to try adding Magill Mueller…and a whole new band emerged. (The group rounded out its lineup this spring with the addition of Mark Lomas on drums.)

Cheating Kay has a pleasing sound, alternately dreamy and explosive. Mueller is self-described as “the master of the gradual crescendo,” and it shows: the instrumentation throughout Concept is intelligent, experimental, and vibrant. Magill Mueller is the chief lyricist for the band, a thoughtful writer as evidenced by Concept’s 10 tracks.

From the first note of this CD, Cheating Kay sets itself apart from all the other new, young local bands. On the intro track, “You Can Never Get Out,” Magill Mueller whisper-sings over the delicate yet purposeful strumming of the guitar. When she begins singing outright, her voice soars, dreamy and soothing. Then the song kicks in, and Magill Mueller’s anguished wailings rise above the drums and background sounds. “Be the One” is another featuring Magill Mueller’s vocal stylings; in a switch, the third track, “Sword Sword,” has Mueller on lead vocals and Magill Mueller as backup. Mueller’s vocal range isn’t as great, but his voice is interesting; together, the two complement one another quite well.

Cuscino brings samples, sequencing, and textures to the mix, as evidenced by “Every Morning.” Over a slow-tempoed soundscape with gentle guitar, Magill Mueller sings, “All my priests are parading/down dirty, dusty streets/as purple-clad prostitutes/foreign blood-fruit, dripping teeth/every morning, every morning I awake.” On “A Little Bit of Adultery,” an equally wistful track, Mueller once again assumes lead vocals—and maintains them for the next four songs; Magill Mueller is absent until the very last song on the disc. This is my only complaint with Concept—if you’re going to alternate lead vocals, alternate more often: don’t start us off with a female voice, give a little back and forth, then sink into male and stay there. By the time the last track comes on, we’ve almost forgotten there ever was a female voice.

“A World Without Heroes” is a troublingly beautiful song backed by an anguished-sounding guitar/drum and evoking visions of countryside churches on dirt roads. The last track, “Blue,” has fretful guitar strokes and reads like a poem: “I am a shield/over your arm/on your heart/water, river will not overflow/and I/am my beloved’s/and his love is for me/come my beloved/let us go into the blue/get me off the ground/raise me.”

Cheating Kay sometimes evokes Radiohead (especially when Mueller is singing), sometimes Jeff Buckley, and oftentimes its own world. www.cheatingkay.com

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