Cheap Time: Exit Smiles (In The Red)
Available 26 November 2013
Latest LP of garage rock with questionable production values from Nashville, Tennessee three-piece.
Look, don’t blame me, all right? I’m as sick as you are of album reviews that define music as ‘garage’, hark back to a couple of specific bands from decades back (Stooges? Check MC5? Of course) and trot out staid clichés about those bands’ influence passing through punk to acid house (eh?) and on to whatever bog standard guitar tripe is beloved in Hackney and East Village this week.
But when an album does sound like it’s been unearthed from a 1968 time capsule, given a perfunctory buff with the shammy of modernism and dumped with a cool shrug into our 2013 earphones, what else are we to say about it? I suppose we could start with whether or not it’s actually any good.
Yes, it is.
Cheap Time are the Tennessee rock band fronted by Jeffrey Novak, whose prolific output included a solo album called Lemon Kid not two months ago. Exit Smiles is the follow up to last year’s Wallpaper Music from Jeffrey and his pals Ryan Sweeney and Jessica McFarland.
From the off the album comes across as throwaway garage rock in a similar way to that sloughed off by Iceage. And just like their Danish counterparts, and much like the wife, it nags away at you until you just can’t not pay it attention. This is music that you’ll find yourself listening to for the third time in three days without realising you’re doing it and on the fourth listen it’ll suddenly become obvious that it’s really quite good.
It would be beneath us both to ask you to suffer 75 clever words on what it sounds like. It’s garage rock and it sounds like garage rock. It’s supposed to sound like it’s been recorded in a garage, and it does.
But in reaching back for predictably influences while clinging to the present, Cheap Time have landed in late 1970s Manchester. Whereas obvious American influences permeate too many British bands of this ilk, the key influence for these Americans is Magazine. Novak does a fine Howard Devoto throughout Exit Smiles, most notably as he barks his way scornfully through 8:05.
Same Surprise offers the closest thing to an actual tune here, but for the bulk of this eight track LP it’s the delivery and excellent, if harsh, lyricism of Novak that carries you along. Kill The Light is an unhappy affair as it bangs along with little purpose but worries are dispelled by Country And City, with its unlikely hi-ho silver beat and echoey vocals, and Slow Variety, which offers the most variety of any track here, though of course nothing as outlandish as a key change.
Novak’s solo stuff is where he allows himself to flex and stretch his talents, so if you’re after something “new” you’ll be wanting Lemon Kid. Cheap Time is where he lets himself relax and play tunes for the hell of it, and where his band crash away in as garage a style as they can manage. And you just listen, over and over, as well you should.