Jeffrey Novak doesn’t appear to be a fan of limitations. A quick glance at the members he’s chosen to form Cheap Time throughout their three full-lengths and five seven inches shows very little cohesion. Band members change almost on a whim, reflecting the intense pace with which Novak seems interested in keeping when it comes to writing, recording and releasing his brand of jagged garage pop. But rather than assume Novak is some sort of ego-driven maniac, Wallpaper Music, the latest from Cheap Time proves that Novak simply seems intent on maintaining a constant evolution within the band’s sound. Either that, or dude has a record collection that could fill the Smithsonian and insists on drawing influence from as many of those records as humanly possible.
The Nashville-based Novak has brought Ryan Sweeney and Cole Kinnear along for the ride on Wallpaper Music, and while the musicians prove accomplished enough, it’s clear that Novak is steering the ship. If anything, Sweeney and Kinnear deserve props just for being able to keep up with Novak’s bent course. Just being on In The Red Records often means Cheap Time is pegged as a garage rock act, though there’s very little of the ‘60s-inspired, jangly and/or punk vibe that many “garage” acts usually proliferate. Instead, Novak lets loose his warped yet ultimately satisfying vision without any filter.
Connecting the dots between the ‘80s, New-Wavey “Witches in Stock” (complete with an invigorating blend of acoustic stomp and playful piano) and the bombarding riffs in “Hall of Mirrors” is just as puzzling a manoeuvre as it would be to find any common ground in the snarling, snotty “More Cigarettes” and the surf-inspired “Another Time”. Novak keeps listeners on their toes throughout Wallpaper Music. There’s noticeable nods to Bowie and Iggy, but not enough that first-time listeners may find it hard to believe that Wallpaper Music was written by just one musician.
Novak’s songwriting abilities are evident, especially on the comfortable sway of “Take It If You Want It”. Yet these moments of clarity are few and far between. Instead, Wallpaper Music comes across as a rushed effort. Perhaps if Novak allowed tracks like “Dream It Up” to find their footing, they’d come across as more of the spacey, stretching rock that it hints at, and less of the knuckle dragging punk that it ultimately is. Never pausing to take a breath, Wallpaper Music shows hints of greatness, and, more so, boatloads of opportunity. There’s a palpable insistence within Novak’s howl throughout the record that demands to be heard, and heard immediately. Perhaps though, if Novak would’ve allowed time to figure out exactly what he wanted to say, he’d gather more of an audience.