It’s a little too easy to compare Jeffrey Novak’s musical arc to Jay Reatard’s. Both are (or, sadly, in the case of Reatard, were) Tennesee-based garage rock musicians who have managed to accumulate several projects to their names. Both have recorded material as one-man bands before moving on to full band settings. It is at this point where the two artists split. Reatard went on to release two full-lengths and countless singles of live-wire punk rock that evolved melodically without sacrificing energy. Novak formed Cheap Time and began cranking out nuggets inspired by ’70s glam-rock and power pop. Both of those genres practically crackle with energy, which is why Cheap Time’s second full-length, Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations), is kind of a huge bummer. While Novak has managed to pen a set of songs that offers a great deal of variation in terms of guitar work and song structure, and contains several signifiers of what makes the genres he dabbles in great, the whole package is just too lethargic for its own good, making its half-hour run time seem twice as long.
The album starts on an extremely strong note, which makes its descent into heavy-eyelid glam stompers a little more disappointing. Opener “When Tomorrow Comes” kicks off with an upwards spiraling guitar figure that the Buzzcocks probably wish they got to first. The rest of the song is one big sneer, with Novak delivering his defiant lyrics in a near-monotone, only approaching melody when he swings his voice around in a seasick manner. The bass tone here is comically huge, and completely carries the track. “Everyone Knows” follows, and features a heavily swinging chorus, as if the song itself is drunkenly trying to make its way home after a three day bar residency. “I’d Rather Be Alone” represents the album’s energetic peak, with staccato drum parts and a shimmering guitar part peaking its head out during the chorus.
And then the album kind of just screeches to a halt. Song tempos drastically drop, and Novak’s mumble-mouthed proclamations become less charming. Basically, it goes from hitting the town and strutting its stuff to falling asleep in the cab within the span of two or three tracks. While songs like “Miss Apparent” make some worthwhile detours into organ-backed twanginess, moments like it don’t come often enough, and the album just kind of drags into its final third.
It may seem like an odd complaint, but many of the songs on Fantastic Explanations would work so much better if they were just played faster. That’s all it would take. Novak and company are capable of writing great hooks and snotty lyrics, which prevents this album from being a total waste. This time around, it just seems like they got a little too tied up with exemplifying some sort of glam-rock, don’t-care-about-anything attitude. While establishing an image is fine, it should never excuse a boring album.