Album Review: Cheekface – ‘Emphatically No.’

Posted: by The Editor

Los Angeles trio Cheekface feels, at least to me, like a singular group. Despite talked vocals not being any new invention, the method isn’t nearly as in vogue as it once was. I also struggle to find any other contemporary act that so efficiently uses humor in their music. One of the band’s two vocalists, Greg Katz, spends the group’s sophomore record,
Emphatically No., alternately joking about capitalist monoculture, and addressing the ensuing destruction of our world. Not only are their lyrics witty, but they’re also incredibly honest and vulnerable. It’s that honesty that helps the record come together; anyone can be funny, anyone can make great music, but if you sense any phoniness, it won’t connect in the same way.  

My favorite songs on Emphatically No showcase that while flying through a series of one-liners, these songs truly rock. The group, composed of Katz, bassist Amanda Tannen, and drummer Mark Echo Edwards, are incredibly talented musicians, and their parts play off each other nicely. Tannen’s bass lines are some of the most infectious I’ve heard in some time. The opener, “‘Listen To Your Heart’ “No.”’ has been around since 2019, but remains as impressive listening today as it did then. The chorus, rife with denial, has been rattling around in my head since then, with a bassline that slithers below the track, shifting the mood into something surf-rock adjacent, with none of the baggage that usually comes with that genre. 

Emphatically No’s peaks come when it becomes clear that what the group wants to do, besides making good music, is highlight the intense boredom that we all still feel, despite the world burning around us – while not bumming its audience out. The one-two punch of “Best Life” and “Call Your Mom” highlights this well. The former ends with the decision to get a stick and poke of the Gucci logo before assuring us “everything is normal.” The latter is speed-run through coping with late capitalism. Apocalypse is long-winded, so “Quick! Touch all the dogs!” seems like a fitting way to get some quick joy. While the hinting at looming darkness may seem more prevalent based on that description, it’s remarkable how little it sours things. Cheekface does an impeccable job of making the listener happy and acting as a supportive voice, someone to look to and take cues from.

I’ve already talked about Cheekface’s lyrics to death in this piece, but allow me to do so even more. Below are just a few of my favorite lines:

“I’m the kind of person who carries around a pocket Constitution so you don’t need to buy me one because I already have one”

“so much of life can be viewed through the metaphor of dance: love, loss, war, fate, fear, protesting nuclear plants”

“Keep the receipts if you want to return life’s gift to the mall”

“Life is long like a CVS receipt.”

“Let’s get canceled together! If I get canceled, I want to get canceled together!”

“I’m announcing loudly, “I don’t know what’s going wrong!”

I tried turning it off and then turning it back on”

And of course:

 “of course I relate to Lena Dunham – I relate to every annoying genius”

The phrase “Album of the Year” gets thrown around by critics to describe the best of the year, but if we took that term at face value, awarding it to the record that most accurately captures the year, 2020’s would have AJJ’s Good Lucky Everybody, a grim and prescient record that had no idea how right it would be. This year that could easily be Emphatically No. Despite 2021 being brand new, and these songs written well before it, they’re topical and their subjects increasingly relevant. If last year was one of chaos being novel, this could be the year of numb, normalized staring into that chaos. Furiously juuling in the face of disaster. That probably just means our world has been that way for a lot longer than we’d like to think, or whatever.


Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great /Phenomenal


Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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