Rating:

* * * *

Intoxicating, raucous and beautifully distorted, any fears of a sophomore slump for Devonport's wonderkids The Checks are firmly chased away by the shrill scream of guitars and Ed Knowles' vocals on

Bagheera

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.

Recorded independently in New Zealand, the band experiment with all manner of sounds and styles on this record, while still dishing up a slick collection of cohesive rock 'n' roll. No longer bound by the rules and directives of a major record label, you can hear the freedom from beginning to end.

Opening track

Bagheera

starts the party with a hiss and a roar, before

You and Me

slows down the swagger, full of tinkering keyboards and distorted riffs, courtesy of guitarist Sven Petterson.

From the deep, hypnotic rumble of Crows to the falsetto of

Ballroom Baby

, Knowles pushes his voice to new extremes as he experiments with different dynamics and softens his trademark yowl.

Paired with some trigger-fingered guitar playing,

Ballroom Baby

makes for one of the record's most intriguing moments and cements the fact this is definitely not more of the same from the young five-piece. As does the catchy folk mantra of

Any Man Will Run You In

.

From there, the band take a trip into the world of dream pop on the sonic God Birds. Happy clappy pop gets a look-in on

Till the Dance Is Over

, before the vocoder heavy

Get Off the Stage Man

and the Strokes-like closer

Hold My Head

, all the while maintaining their signature, blues-soaked swagger.

The band tread the fine line between experimentation and total reinvention, keeping their original fans onside while diversifying enough to bring new ones on board.

Paired with some beautifully obscure lyrics (

Bagheera

's "Cold in the body, look rough in the velvet and I'm just gonna bring to your monkey" and

Till the Dance is Over

's "Guitar on her lips and a single star in her mouth/And by two the dance is over and you brought an extra soda/ In the morning when you roll over/ You'll want to say her name."),

Alice By the Moon

makes for delicious listening.

Joanna Hunkin