Personnel: Jeffrey Novak (vocals, guitar, kazoo, piano, organ, Jew's harp); Ryan Jennings (flute); Ryan Sweeney (drums, percussion, background vocals); Cole Kinnear (hand claps); Stephen Braren, Matthew Allen (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Andrija Tokic.
Recording information: LBM Studios, Nashville, TN (2010).
Photographers: Kristi Montague; Bekan Cope.
Jeffrey Novak possesses one of the greatest and most effortless vocal sneers in contemporary rock & roll, sounding as if he could turn asking for a glass of water into a world-class insult, and on their third full-length album, his band Cheap Time are learning how to sound every bit as snotty as their frontman. Wallpaper Music isn't as formally inventive in its fusion of punk, pop, and glam as 2010's Fantastic Explanations (And Similar Situations), but in terms of sheer swagger and shrugged-off bad attitude, it's some sort of triumph, an album that encompasses several generations of teenage negativity and channels it into a potent, murky groove. On Wallpaper Music, Cheap Time's music sounds elemental and experimental at once; the songs are built out of simple melodic structures and commonplace riffs, but given the sharp report of Novak's guitar, the relentless pulse of Stephen Braren's bass, and the straightforward stomp of Ryan Sweeney's drums, these songs have plenty of room to explore sonic avenues off the main route, and between the fuzzy wah-wah groove of "Straight and Narrow," the semi-acoustic brooding of "Take It If You Want It," the blues-leaning guitar and metronomic piano of "Typically Strange," the descent into loops of noise in "Dream It Up," and the vague but clever Who lift of the grand finale of "Underneath the Fruit Flies," it's clear Cheap Time never met a detour they didn't like. While Cheap Time's earlier work pointed clearly to their myriad musical inspirations, Wallpaper Music sounds like they've been able to fuse them all into a singular, cohesive sound, while at the same time showing an eagerness to mess around with their own formula. With Novak's world-class sneer resting on top, this is a good set of bad vibes, and rock & roll malcontents should put this album on their want lists pronto. ~ Mark Deming