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Cheap Time - Cheap Time

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Artist: Cheap Time

Album: Cheap Time

Label: In the Red

Review date: May. 14, 2008

Upon first listen to Cheap Time’s self-titled debut on In the Red, one could be forgiven for thinking it nothing more than a good, albeit fairly ordinary garage punk record. It’s young, loud and snotty; it’s hook-filled and succinct. You get the idea. Don’t be hasty, though: not only does Cheap Time pay dividends in terms of basic enjoyment with each listen, main man Jeff Novak’s skills as a songwriter and his obvious love of underground punk shine through as well.

Employing a stripped-down lineup and working within the inherently limited genre that is garage punk, Novak is still able to come up with a markedly diverse and varied set. The songs on Cheap Time run between just over a minute to just under two and a half, with finale “Trip to the Zoo” coming in at a baroque three-minutes plus. Yet everything from power pop and twee to art rock and glam can be heard (sometimes in the course of one song). Cheap Time is all over the map, while still remaining a totally fun and cohesive album.

On its most basic level, the album is exactly what that above first listen reveals – it’s a catchy, straight-ahead rave-up. “Falling Down” is a near-perfect slice of skinny-tie rock with just enough scuzz and fuzz to place it firmly in the TermBo camp; “Ginger Snap” is a “Hey Nineteen” (or 16 as it were) story of young lust told with a bouncy keyboard lick and a sing-along twee melody. “Zig-Zag” on the other hand, kicks off with a slinky descending guitar lick that works its way into a chunky riff that recalls the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” When the song’s anthemic chorus reaches the high harmony, times are good and everything is a-OK. Yet, lurking amidst the bubblegum façade is some analog tomfuckery that skews the experience just enough to keep the listener guessing. Said tomfuckery plays an even larger role elsewhere, as “Living in the Past” finds the electronic squiggles and blurts fully integrated, while “The Ballad Of Max Frost” is just a nasty minor-key dirge. On the aforementioned mentioned “Trip to the Zoo,” all of the many stylistic threads tie together nicely. The song begins with some lo-fi industrial skronk (metallic scrapes, breaking glass, and an ominously minimal bass pulse), then suddenly gives way to one of the album’s more rousing hooks – and at least two more distinct melodic passages – before coming to a rather abrupt end. It’s not Chrome, but it’s not exactly typical, either.

Garage rock/punk is often criticized for being the refuge of the uninspired. Learn your 1-4-5s, a few requisite Shadows of Knight moves, throw in some KBD attitude and you’re more or less golden. Accusations of complacency and the derivative will plague any subgenre, but they fail to take into account a band like Cheap Time. Jeff Novak could easily be placed along side fellow Volunteer Stater Jay Reatard in terms of his skills as not only an economically minded master tunesmith, but likewise as one who intelligently subverts genre expectations seemingly without even trying. Like Jay Reatard's solo work, there are many familiar reference points here, but garage, punk and new wave merely provide the bricks and mortar for a totally unique pop music statement.

Cheap Time's sound isn’t foreign or especially mystifying. It’s an example of simple rock ‘n’ roll craftsmanship that flip-offs the naysayers constantly bemoaning the dearth of originality in music. This record remains original while being 100 percent aware of its origins. That should be the goal of any songwriter, regardless of style or scene.

Ah, but here I am getting off track. This is a rock record first and foremost, so just remember to play the fucker loud. The rest is all there if you want it.

By Nate Knaebel

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