Cheap Time’s power pop artistry has grown in leaps and bounds over the course of three years. From releasing their first seven-inch to their debut self-titled album, many people had no idea what to make of the trio. I’ll admit, it is difficult to categorize the Cheap Time sound – it’s punk, though not in its fastest or hardest form, but still too abrasive to be anything else. Frontman Jeffery Novak’s style of garage punk fence-sitting is no doubt genre expanding and on the band’s new release, Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations), Novak and crew, bassist Stephen Braren and new recruit Ryan Sweeny keeping time, have taken another giant step forward in artistic growth.
The Cheap Time aesthetic has become more complex, while holding true to the band’s roots. Arrangements are more experimental, as is the case in “When Tomorrow Comes,” which is still bubblegum garage punk, yet incorporates fills and more complex structures and melodies than earlier releases. The album starts full throttle and powers through 12 songs in just over 30 minutes. Songs can be as tight as anything from the Strokes’ catalogue (“I’d Be Alone” and “Lazy Days”), or as sloppy as anything Johnny Thunders recorded (“Down the Tube” and “Woodland Drive”). The constant love/hate, back and forth between sloppy punk and garage-y lo-finess helps in keeping the listener focused and music inevitably fresh.
If there sound was to be presented in any one song, “Lazy Days,” might be that song. The music is often dark and raw, but ultimately poppy – the most successful of dichotomies. If Girls and JEFF the Brotherhood were to have a baby, you would have Cheap Time. This is a band that constantly throws you a curveball when you feel like you’ve figured them out. Fantastic Explanations shows a band on the cusp of something no one can really get their finger on. It’s this, but it’s that – it’s marvelous.
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