In just less than half hour, Cherie Amour get as close as is humanly possible to the title of their debut album. By its very nature, the actual phenomenon is something no-one can be sure happens while alive, but with Spiritual Ascension the four-piece – vocalist Trey Miller, guitarists Casey Reid and Brendan Willis and drummer Ronnie Sherman – have made its musical equivalent. Not necessarily in a divine or religious sense, but in terms of the feelings that the record conjures up. That all begins with “Welcome”, a 41-second flurry of spectral noise that introduces the album by asking three questions. Not just any questions, either, but three big ones: Why are we here? Where did we come from? What happens to us when we’re gone? From there, the Baltimore band take the listener deep into their world in search of the answers. They don’t have them, of course, because none of us do, but there’s still a deep personal truth to be discovered by pondering those questions. That’s what the 10 songs that follow do, while also reflecting on the trauma, experiences and mindset that led to it.
“I want this album to bring more awareness to different elements of mental health and spirituality,” explains Miller. “Personally, I don’t really know what religion I ascribe to. I take elements from a lot of different things and then just mix it up, and that’s how I’m trying to present myself to the world. It’s bringing out my personal struggles and trying to figure out how I feel about, and how I view, everything. I went through all these different trials, and it made me the most refined version of Trey that I can be. But then right after we finished the album, I had some really hard times – so the second album is going to be crazy, too!”
“It sucks,” adds Reid, “but I do think musicians need to suffer to write the music you want to hear. Like, who is in a great space where they want to write music that hits? Especially in the genre that we’re in, I feel like the music we write is intended for people who are going through some really deep challenges
and hardships, and they need this to help them navigate that. So I feel like it makes us so much more relatable and able to connect with other people.”
Even though this is Cherie Amour’s first full-length, it’s not the first time that the four of them have been able to bring out that connection. Even before last year’s debut EP, Internal Discussions – which, like this record, was recorded with and produced by Four Year Strong’s Alan Day – the four members had been playing together as One Life To Lead, but they felt that name didn’t suit their evolving musical style. And so, they renamed themselves Cherie Amour, and it’s with this moniker that the self-styled nu-punk outfit have found their true selves. They’ve done so by mixing together a killer blend of genres that, on paper, might make for odd bedfellows, but which, in the band’s capable hands, sound like they’re just meant to be together.
“It was amongst our goals to not try to prescribe to a certain genre,” says Allen. “We wanted it to be all-encompassing so that you can get out of it what you want and need, and we felt that nu-punk was the best way to describe that simply.”
“It gives us absolute freedom,” adds Miller simply. “We just don’t have any rules, and so sometimes strange stuff happens. But it works!”
“With the EP,” explains Sherman, “we blindly trusted Alan, and it worked out. With this album, we were in the same room and so we were like ‘What can we get away with?!’ This picks up where Internal Discussion left off, but we also didn’t want to do what everybody expected us to do.”
The result is an album that redefines what it means to be undefinable. After that portentous intro track, the hyperactive, blistering “On Deck” kicks the record off properly. It’s just 55 seconds long, but manages to fuse hip-hop, punk and hyper-pop, setting a tone and energy level that rarely drops – and when it does, only by design. “Sin City”, for example, is a catchy hook-laden, emotion-laced song that mixes a pop-punk foundation with heavy breakdowns, but also contains unapologetic undercurrents of mainstream hip-hop-inspired pop, while “Low N Lean” is an up-tempo blast of melancholy that also
includes parts where Miller sings in French. Elsewhere, “Letting Go” encapsulates every different aspect of the Cherie Amour sound, “Minds Eye” is a genre-switching night of hedonism, and “God Be A Woman” offers up one of catchiest pop hooks you’ll hear all year (and which includes a nice dose of AutoTune) before the title track turns things dark and sinister musically even as the song itself searches for the Light. It’s all brought to an end by “In My Head”, which almost sounds like a distorted hymn. It’s the most mellow moment on this record, but it also feels restless, bristling and fizzing with an untamed energy that constantly strives for a crescendo but – just like enlightenment, or spiritual ascension – never quite gets there. Instead, it’s a song that seems to ruminate on everything that preceded it and which rounds off a record that sees Cherie Amour truly inhabit and take command of their own self-styled genre, demonstrating exactly how limitless their talents and ambitions truly are.
“You can’t go around calling yourself a mixture of all kinds of different genres,” says Reid, “because people lose interest. But nu-punk is all-compassing. This record’s got so many things on it from disco to rock to a little bit of djent to hip-hop, so call it what you want and what you take out of it is what you get, but for us nu-punk is what it’s going to be.”
“It’s kind of cool trying to brand something and market it and pioneer it yourself,” says Miller, “but I also feel like we almost don’t have another choice. Every time someone asks ‘What’s this?’ it’s just us doing our own thing.”
“And that’s exactly what drives the band to keep going forwards,” adds Sherman. “We’re trailblazers who set out to do this.”