October 09, 2009 - Paper + Plastick
With the '80s retreating further into the rear view, perhaps it's finally time to shitcan the guyliner and white pancake makeup of new- and dark-wave fascinations. Late-'80s alt-rock is a comparatively welcome replacement for all the gloomy would-be Ian Curtis and Robert Smith clones clogging the underground with their twitchy, synth-addled moodiness. One of the finest proponents of this next wave sound is Lansing, Michigan, trio Cheap Girls. They fashion catchy, distortion-drenched paeans that seep a vaguely melancholy air (credit the downbeat vocal delivery) and hit like a knuckle-protruding frog punch. Their most immediate touchstone is Bill Janovitz's Buffalo Tom, whose vocals frontmam Ian Graham greatly resembles, though the crunchy, overdriven major chord guitar melodies equally call to mind acts like Superchunk, the Meices, Seaweed and early Lemonheads (all of whom came to life in the last couple years of the '80s).
The melodies are relatively straightforward, and probably composed on an acoustic before being soaked in electric guitar fuzz for more muscularity. As such they're eminently hummable without being remotely wussy, like they might be in the hands of a singer/songwriter. The opening track, "Sunnyside," offers some insight into this aesthetic, opening with a pretty acoustic riff and longing for a girl's attention, continuing for two minutes before the fuzz-box kicks in and Graham intones, "I know you like a tightrope walker, mingled with a coattail rider." It leads breathlessly into the album's best track, "Ft. Lauderdale," an energetic rush that comes on like Superchunk's "Slack Motherfucker," and surveys similar underachieving territory as it sketches a valet and a waitress who dream of bigger things, as Graham sings, "I think I think I think I'm so creative," wearing his insecurity like a rash he can't hide. So it goes, from "all of my friends with degress, just staring back over counters making minimum wage," ("Hey, Hey, I'm Worn Out") to "some say I look shook up, or just abandoned, hey, well you just make the call" (the punchy "Something That I Need"), as Graham pines to share the assurance of those he sees ("but they're not the sharing type"). Toward the album's end, Graham longs for all his old pot-smoking buddies who moved away or moved on, leaving him isolated and alone with "All My Clean Friends," in a particularly poignant culmination of the album's themes.
In this manner, the album's title, My Roaring 20's, offers suitable understatement, and overall it feels like a Breakfast Club for overeducated, irresolute slackers--hardly an uncommon malady for one's early 20s. The unsettled emotions are balanced with chunky, straightforward melodies that channel the cathartic release of frustration, and make the 10-track, 27-minute album a thorough joy.