The Cashew Chemists’ debut self-titled EP was delivered to us in a charmingly flimsy bi-fold CD sleeve. Low-budget, no-nonsense, and oddly earnest because it just seemed so ‘substance-over-style’ — which is ironic, because it’s not that the boys don’t have an image. In fact, they’re all about image: tweed, brogues, suspenders, the works. Their package is Korean boyband-level immaculate, making them stand out in the mini renaissance of lo-fi retro throwbacks in the Singaporean music scene now.
As soon as ‘Not In Love’ crackled into play, the influence of The Strokes on their nascent sound (and especially vocals) is immediately clear. That’s not to say the band is a copycat — right after the first track, the band embarks with more confidence on a sound firmly establishing their arrival on the scene. ‘What’s The Matter’ kicks off the rest of their catchy, feel-good tunes that alchemise the nostalgic essence of a ‘90s Singaporean music tone, with very heavy influence from The Strokes and hints of The Beatles.
‘I’m in love with the world/ But not through the eyes of a pretty girl’, lead singer Yuji croons with youthful, sunny positivity in ‘Over You’. It’s a surprisingly marked departure from the band’s heavy metal beginnings, but the intricate attention they pay to riffs even in their new music shows traces of the songwriting precision so distinctive of the former genre.
But while everyone loves the Strokes, Cashew Chemists’ inheritance of the lo-fi, bedroom-y slur characteristic of Julian Casablancas isn’t necessarily such a good thing. It’s just that their Casablancas loyalty and incongruous American accent (especially in the opening track) regrettably detract from the distinct identity they could be carving.
The EP could do better with more variation and less homogeneity in the album as a whole, but it’s music impossible to not dance or bob along too– the chemists have concocted the perfect formulas for catchiness, and we can’t stop hitting replay. It’s a more than impressive effort for an EP, and I’m definitely looking forward to the band’s next release.
By Zixin Lin