When we think of garage rock, we tend to think of snotty two-minute songs, of restless defiant youth. Thankfully, bands such as Cheap Time (and many of their labelmates on In The Red) are here to remind us how silly that way of thinking is. Exit Smiles is an ambitious and exploratory album. It buzzes through the opening title track with sneering power, but the drums swirl around the track and the guitars echo out into space around Jeffrey Novak’s vocals. The angular hooks feel totally separate from the funky shuffle of “Same Surprise” or the jangling psychedelics of “Country and City” or the arena-sized power-pop of the excellent closer “Modern Taste”.
And yet, despite all these tangents, there’s a wonderful sense of purpose to these songs, not the least of which comes from Novak’s forceful performance, spitting bile out at every turn but never simplifying things or talking down to us. The album does sometimes lose out on immediate hooks in achieving epic compositions, but Exit Smiles is still a solid, challenging reminder that garage rock is an old tradition, one capable of experimenting effectively outside of expectations.