Cherym – ‘TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT’

By Ian Kenworthy

Cherym felt like outsiders; like they didn’t belong. As a non-binary trio, they felt excluded from the music scene, yet they had a way in. Armed with infectious songs and a handful of EPs and singles, this little band from Londonderry proved they were not to be underestimated. Backed by Alcopop! Records, their 2021 EP ‘Hey Tori’ sent them on a journey leading here, to debut album ‘Take It Or Leave It’. Maybe you’re on outsider too. Maybe you’re missing Milk Teeth and need a band to fill that grunge-meets-pop-punk void. Maybe you like music with attitude. If that’s ticked all your boxes, this could be your new favourite record.

On ‘Take It Or Leave It’ the music is catchy and driving. It’s surprisingly great for running to and it’s difficult not to get swept along in its boisterous energy. And, because it’s so tightly sequenced,  the album whips past in a breezy 33 minutes. That’s its major strength; it’s an effortless listen, meaning that as you dig a little deeper the skilful construction becomes ever more inspiring.

Inclusivity is the band’s calling card and underpins all their songs. The trick, of course, is that this message is shaped into energetic, catchy-as-hell packages. Just take the single ‘Alpha Beta Sigma’ which takes a big swing at incel culture and the Catholic church – the EP’s artwork features a huge burning church so it’s hardly subtle – and while its lyrics are explicit they’re also abstract enough to apply to all manner of situations. That carefully toed line between personal and poetic, and widely relatable but specific, is the mark of really great songwriting. A similar vein runs through every song here and each seems to have the word ‘earworm’ written through the centre like stick of holiday rock.

Avril Lavigne’s ‘The Best Damn Thing’ was a clear influence on the band and while that record be considered camp, here songs like ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’ and ‘Do It Another Day’ ask what if that record was completely queer, with big drum beats, youthful references to ‘Mum & Dad’ and the slightly chipmunk-like vocals giving it a similar flavour. It’s also difficult to understate how much energy a carefully deployed ‘na-na’ or ‘hey-hey’ can give their choruses.

This mood is enhanced by the way Hannah Richardson and Nyree Dawn share vocals, creating a bubble-gum pop feel. If you enjoy the hanging-out-with-your-friends dynamic of a band like Cheerbleederz or Not Ur Girlfrenz there’s plenty of that here and it’s amplified by the singing’s harmonious quality. This blending of their different vocal styles makes for a punchy and catchy tone. This also makes a counterpoint to the frequently stark lyrical tone while reinforcing their inclusive message.

Recording the album with George Perks at Vada Studios was an excellent creative choice as the sound has a real personality and does a great job of capturing the band’s propulsive, raucous energy. Alannagh Doherty’s drums have a pleasing snap and both guitars and bass bite without being ugly, creating a sound that’s accessible without being bland. It’s a case of sounding great without being overproduced or undercooked, a neat balancing act. The results are catchy pop-adjacent grunge and pop-punk, a style that takes the sting out of their sometimes combative LGBTQ+ message.

Indeed, the choice of album title is a shrug aimed at anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their message of inclusivity. It’s hardly subtle, of course, and is threaded through their song writing with almost all of the songs referencing their experiences. You can hear this in ‘The Thing About Them’, a song about using the correct pronouns. It works as an easy explainer as to why doing so is important and incisive take-down to anyone who wears flippancy like a badge, an ironic twist, given the record’s title. Similarly ‘Do It Another Day’, a song they describe as their ‘ADHD anthem’, has a slacker feel to its chorus that seems at odds with its subject matter and works as a clever play on ADHD stereotypes. There’s also a wicked sense of humour to songs like ‘Taking Up Sports’ and on ‘If I Was A Man’ which uses the refrain of “All I wanted was to be treated more like you” to poke fun at the patriarchy.

If you’re looking for grungy pop-punk vibes, they’re strongest on songs like ‘Am I Enough’ which expresses the same sense of not quite fitting in, a vibe that might be called ‘teenage angst’ which can be applied to any situation, especially when entering an unfamiliar space. Crucially, the album also features numerous changes of pace that keep it varied without dimming its sense of momentum. The acoustic opening to ‘Binary Star’ gives it a different feel and the lazily meanderings of ‘Do It Another Day’ contrast with the expansive swagger of songs like ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’ where the bright guitar licks have a little more room to breathe.

Due to being written from an outsider’s perspective the album makes a lot of choices that reinforce the idea of difference with song titles like ‘Binary Star’ and ‘AW TYSM’ clearly telegraphing their underlying themes. The song ‘Colourblind’ also ties neatly to the delightful cover art which paints all three band members blue; all different, yet all united. It’s a lovely, inclusive piece of artwork that underscores the album’s central theme.

Upbeat, infectious and a delight from start to finish, on their debut album Cherym are asking you to ‘Take It Or Leave It’. Take it. Take it right now.

IAN KENWORTHY

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