On Second Thought: Cheap Time – Exit Smiles (2013)

In 1972, writer and future Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye grabbed the one good song off a mess of forgotten 1960s LPs, and created the Nuggets compilation album. From that greasy punk acorn sprang the mighty oak of the Garage Rock industry, spawning devoted adherents and band-wagon jumping opportunists. Remember when The Strokes-White Stripes-Hives were going to change the course of rock ‘n roll?

By this point, any garage rock combo can be reduced to a template, drawing on the band’s heart-on-ripped-sleeve influences. Witness Cheap Time’s fourth LP, Exit Smiles.

The title track cops the urgent, incessant guitar figure of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat.” The gnarly and snarly “Spark in the Chain” evokes the loping clangor and icy detachment of Wire’s “Ex Lion Tamer.” “Eight ‘O Five” catches a rattling New York Dolls “Subway Train.” Smeared over all of this is singer-guitarist-and Cheap Timer in Chief Jeffrey Novak’s epic snarl, a carbolic-spiked cocktail mixing the adenoidal sneer of the Saint’s Chris Bailey with the dire, dyspeptic drawl of the Fall’s Mark E. Smith.

Though Exit Smiles can be dissected to reductionist odds and ends, Novak pulls off his ragged-but-right sleight of hand with aplomb. Unlike garage acolytes who nail the details but miss the feel, Novak has been at this game long enough to subsume his influences. With tracks like “Kill The Light,” which gleefully spits Magazine-style bile over Velvet Underground jangle and Vanilla Fudge sludge, his combo captures the giddy glammy feel of proto punk titans like the Stooges.

Cheap Time skirts the edge of derailing with startling authenticity. You get the sense that the ice is cracking beneath Novak’s feet, but he’s just too cool to care. That’s the kind of shit you just can’t fake.

Michael Walsh

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