The crunch, jangle, and laid-back nostalgia of Cheap Girls puts them in the running as their decade's answer to Superchunk, the Replacements, or Smoking Popes, and with third album Giant Orange, their case is made stronger than ever. Where 2008's self-released debut Find Me a Drink Home laid the blueprint for their charming, uber-energized take on power pop and college rock, and 2010 follow-up My Roaring 20s shifted the spotlight toward the band's classic '90s indie rock influences, Giant Orange goes a step further, simultaneously blending and refreshing those reference points, making for Cheap Girls' most realized record to date. Giant Orange also marks the band's first time working with an outside producer, heading to friend and Against Me! brainchild Tom Gabel's Elkton, Florida studio, Total Treble. Incidentally, these sessions were Gabel's first outings as producer, and his fresh ears result in more muscular, modern production values, helping the songs stand out on their own merits as opposed to simply rehashing the sound of bygone eras. And just as the Girls -- singer/bassist/acoustic guitarist Ian Graham, his drummer/percussionist brother Ben Graham, and guitarist Adam Aymor -- road tested Giant Orange's tunes to refine them, Gabel succeeds at capturing that live energy, from its driving hooks, crisp rhythm section, and subtle dynamic changes to the fact that the only other instrument played on the record is the occasional tambourine. Thematically, the album is concerned with growing up, whether struggling to move beyond a past relationship ("Communication Blues"), feeling uncertainty for the future ("On/Off Switches"), or learning from mistakes ("Right Way"), delivered through Graham's increasingly powerful crooning vocal style and reaffirmed by stronger and more deliberate instrumentation. Though the overall tempo of Giant Orange is consistent, its bold catchiness will keep listeners engaged, from the major chord melody and mid-'90s Merge Records grit of opener "Gone All Summer," to the ringing guitar and back-and-forth harmonies of "Mercy-Go-Round." Conversely, the record offers a stylistic diversion with "Cored to Empty," an acoustic ballad of being damaged goods that conveys Graham's vulnerability while still working in those trademark hooks. With Giant Orange, Cheap Girls showcase their best attributes while expanding their sound, offering more for their longtime fans to like and -- in tandem with their signing to the Rise label -- setting the stage to expand that reach.
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AllMusic Review by Chrysta Cherrie