[5 June 2014]
Ah. Michigan. The Land of Lakes may sport less in the way of quality latter-day rock bands than its Buckeyed neighbors to the South, but the storied history that gave us powerhouses like the MC5, Death, and the Amboy Dukes previously left fertile soil for bands to spring up from their fallow seed. Recent Michigan shine has been on the Motor City and bands who drank more obviously from that well (see: Jack White projects, Von Bondies, ad yawn-sium), but Lansing power trio Cheap Girls have grown up strong from the fertile suburban ground that bands like Modern Machines plowed in the early part of this century, releasing a trio of whip-smart guitar-pop records cut from the same faded cloth of past greats like Ben Deilly-era the Lemonheads and Flight of Mavis.
Cheap Girls came up through the DIY punk scene without really sounding like what you’d call a punk band today, but I think we can agree that that term continues to be diluted well past any cogent modern day actual meaning. If you want to call the Replacements or Soul Asylum punk, it doesn’t seem so inappropriate. Fellow rockers like the Menzingers obviously have Gin Blossoms records in their collection and aren’t ashamed; Cheap Girls seem to be just as content to let their songs do the labeling. Luckily for them, the populace at large, punk or not, is giving them the tag of a quality rock band. It’s a currency that should serve them well and at least initially has allowed them to tour just as successfully with the Hold Steady as they have with label-mates Against Me.
That label would be UK based indie Xtra Mile Recordings, which has capitalized on Frank Turner heat on this side of the pond to build up quite a respectable little stateside roster with the aforementioned reality show rock band, as well as Far/Jonah Mataranga and the mighty Glossary. Their first Cheap Girls release is called Famous Graves and it remains laser locked on the trajectory that has worked so successfully for the band previously: quality, guitar-driven three-minute rock songs.
Famous Graves arrives to the party 10 songs deep. Slow Nod opens up the proceedings by serving up some tasty feedback with distorted guitar riff back before things kick up in typical Cheap Girls fashion. Singer-guitarist Ian Graham will not be deposing John Legend from his vocal throne anytime soon, but like current tour partner Craig Finn from the Hold Steady, he’s the right tool for the job. Mostly smooth—but strident when called upon—Graham also writes all the songs for Cheap Girls. With his brother Ben on drums and Adam Aymor on guitar, the band is one of the precious few today that has managed to keep its original lineup intact since its inception.
Things haven’t changed much for the Girls since the band’s brilliant 2007 debut Find Me a Drink Home. It tends to keep things a tad repetitive, but faced with the prospect of slogging through another Green Day rip-off, I think I’ll live in the moment and be grateful for 10 pretty good rock songs in one place from the same three dudes I’ve enjoyed having rock me previously. “2nd Floor” makes for my personal high point here, plucking my heartstrings with sweet, sweet Lick-era Lemonhead-y goodness. Graham lacks the smoothness of Dando, but there is a lot here musically that pays a large debt to the boy(s) from Beantown. Lovers of guitar-driven rock music looking for a smoother Two Cow Garage or more stripped down the Hold Steady would do well to visit Famous Graves.