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Cheap Time - Wallpaper Music

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Artist: Cheap Time

Album: Wallpaper Music

Label: In the Red

Review date: Jun. 13, 2012

Cheap Time’s Jeffrey Novak was Jay Reatard’s last roommate, sharing an unheated apartment with the garage punk provocateur during the final months of his life. He also shared a certain disregard for Little Steven conventions with Reatard, looking for ways to break out of the garage rock straightjacket while retaining its best elements. Wallpaper Music, then, is heavily influenced by Reatard and Reatard’s demise. And like Reatard’s best work, it’s a conflicted, difficult endeavor that can pass as a party record. These are good time songs about death and disillusion, their big triumphant guitar gestures continually undercut by drawled detachment, their catchy melodies always getting sucked down into an existential vortex.

Novak’s current band is his fourth line-up in five years – that’s Novak plus Matthew Allen on bass and Ryan Sweeney on drums – but they play like they’ve been together forever. Sweeney, in particular, is very fine, cranking tight, furious, scrambling beats that pull up suddenly in dead stop flashes of blinding white space. Allen is solid, too, never overbearing, in “Night to Night” wringing every possible ounce of tension from a one-note throb of a riff. And Novak himself, mostly on guitar, but also dabbling in piano, organ, xylophone and, ahem, jaw harp (listen closely to “Witches in Stock”), is a large-scale, ground-staking player. He’s responsible for a lot of the band’s swagger and drama, as he struts and poses and pulls off Townshend-esque windmill chords. He’s dubbed and overlayered all over “Typically Strange,” in the vertiginous riff borrowed from Creedence (from “Up Around the Bend,” specifically), in the crash-and-burn power chords, in a rash of Billy Preston-style piano bangings. You can hardly get away from him and his indomitable power-popping energy.

All this makes Wallpaper Music sound like a lot of fun, and no question, it is that. But there’s a darker, more difficult, smellier layer to this music that turns its exuberance into something decadent and interesting. It starts with Novak’s voice, a slurred, sardonic, shout-along monotone that evokes Johnny Thunders and Chris Bailey of The Saints. Cheap Time’s music may be jumping around and clapping its hands and wiggling its ass, but the vocals are off in a corner somewhere, nursing a whiskey and pretending not to care.

The voice, too, carries the lyrics, which are not exactly standard let’s-get-wasted-it’s-Saturday fare. “Another Time” sounds like a straight-up party song, with its rampaging guitar riff, its blitzkrieg drums, but it’s about a choking, overwhelming alienation. “Night To Night” slashes and crashes like mid-period Clash over the general topic of playing and touring, but there’s a trapped, angsty, self-loathing in the words. The main character is so disaffected that he can’t even listen to himself anymore. He has, damningly, “stopped being…stopped being a fan.” “Night to Night” might be about Jay Reatard. It is certainly influenced by his demon-haunted approach to pop.

Wallpaper Music is a lot more complicated than it seems, and those complications give it a depth and resonance that most garage punk records can’t muster. You can listen to it a lot without burning it out, and in fact, it gets better the further you get from the surface.

By Jennifer Kelly

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