Cheap Time

Exit Smiles

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After several years of hard work and dedication, Jeffrey Novak of Cheap Time has finally refined his superb vocal sneer into a remarkably accurate evocation of one of the true masters of the form, Chris Bailey of the Saints, to the point there are moments on Cheap Time's fourth album, Exit Smiles, where you fully expect him to burst into "(I'm) Stranded" or "This Perfect Day." "Same Surprise" and "8:05" even sound like stripped-down versions of tunes that could have been on Eternally Yours, and much of Exit Smiles plays as a lean and efficient expression of the group's punk sensibility, albeit filtered through their clear fondness for vintage glam and power pop. "Country and City" may quote the thundering drums of Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and the deep echo and synth interjections on "Slow Variety" and "Spark in the Chain" are indication of Cheap Time's eclectic range of influences, but Exit Smiles is best when it looks back to that brief moment in the '70s when punk was loud but not so fast just yet. Jeffrey Novak's bad attitude continues to serve him well, and his no-frills guitar work pushes these tunes forward with the muscle and reliability of a big-block Chevy, while the rhythm section of Jessica McFarland (bass and backing vocals) and Ryan Sweeney (drums) offers solid support along similar lines, keeping the music strong without a lot of fuss. Exit Smiles seems a bit less ambitious than the Cheap Time albums that preceded it, but that's not to say it isn't effective -- if Novak and company blocked out their sound on Wallpaper Music and Fantastic Explanations (And Similar Situations), Exit Smiles is where they show how they've learned to master their form, and so far they're writing songs and giving them shape with admirable passion and skill.

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