Punk rockers Cheap Time emerge from an emotional year with their best record.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Jay Reatard’s accidental overdose death in 2010 left punk rock fans stunned. It also marked one of the most tumultuous periods of Jeffrey Novak’s life. The Cheap Time frontman and Reatard were longtime pals, tour mates and collaborators who also lived together in Memphis for a stretch. Novak looked up to him as an eccentric-genius mentor, relying on him for music-related advice and encouragement.
The untimely passing of the punk legend inspired a lot of the outfit’s third LP Wallpaper Music, released last May. Though it was a struggle from start to finish, it’s undoubtedly the most potent music that’s ever come out of Novak. In addition to the loss of a good friend, he ran into other setbacks: He suffered a nervous breakdown while on tour in Europe, the band’s former bassist quit in the middle of recording and Novak felt pressure in every direction to finish the album, which ended up taking nearly 18 months to complete.
“We had been playing the songs from the album live for so long and people immediately connected with it,” Novak says on the road to a show in Iowa City. “Also, [Reatard] wasn’t there to give me advice like he always did in the past. I had to do things on my own and really try to believe in myself.”
As taxing as making Wallpaper Music was, the payoff made it worth every bit of suffering endured.
“Recording the album was a therapeutic process for me,” Novak says.
Along with Novak on guitar, vocals and synth, Cole Kinnear (a Carmel Valley native) on bass and Ryan Sweeney on drums, Cheap Time delivers a punk opus flooded with despair, ambiguity and intermittent bursts of conviction.
“Night to Night” is soaked in Novak’s acidic tears. It’s an unapologetic tribute to the late punk rocker that kicks off with a blistering single-note chord on bass. The downbeat tune has traces of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, The Stooges’ Fun House and even some Velvet Underground darkness running through its veins. After the two-minute song closes, it leaves behind a chilling silence that sizzles like a hot amp.
Meanwhile, “Hall of Mirrors” isn’t as blatantly about Reatard, but it fits with the overall motif of living in excess. It’s grimy, gutter punk that moves at a cocaine pace.
Cheap Time is in the middle of a two-month national tour that makes its way to The Lobby at the Golden State Theatre on Monday. In a way, performing the new tunes live – without any breaks in between songs – in a different city every night has been as cathartic for Novak as making the album.
While grey clouds will always hover above Wallpaper Music, Novak has never been as proud of any of his previous records – even the stuff he cut in professional studios – as he is with the home-recorded LP made on a tape machine he acquired from Reatard. Who needs therapy when you’ve got punk rock?
CHEAP TIME, UNNATURAL HELPERS and BURNT PALMS perform at 8pm, Monday, Oct. 22, at The Lobby at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $8. 297-2472.