Over the course of two full-length albums and numerous split 7-inches, Lansing, Mich.’s Cheap Girls has been positioning itself as the makeshift savior of power pop. The trio, consisting of guitarist Adam Aymor and the brothers Graham—Ian on bass/vocals and Ben on drums—has found ways to transform Gin Blossoms influence and sugary-sweet hooks into something fresh.
It’s no surprise that Cheap Girls’ third album and first for Rise Records, Giant Orange, opens with “Gone All Summer,” a sonic declaration of everything the band is capable of. Aymor’s guitar work is as solid as ever, avoiding all the boring pop-rock tropes, as the rhythm section gives the track propulsive energy.
What is decidedly different on “Gone All Summer” is Ian Graham’s outlook, which highlights the positive aspects of his life for a change. “I don’t know when I’ll be coming back to work/ I’ve been gone all summer, and I think it’s for the greater good,” sings Ian, showing that sometimes constant touring isn’t such a bad thing. Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. “Ruby” sees Ian plead with the titular character to stay with him, displaying that Cheap Girls is still capable of crafting poppy music rife with downtrodden lyrics.
The production—courtesy of Against Me!’s Tom Gabel—is another marked change for the band. Where Find Me a Drink Home was rough around the edges and My Roaring 20’s felt muddy in spots, Gabel’s production allows for Cheap Girls to flourish. While the group has always written great songs, this is the first time that the record paints an accurate picture of what the band actually sounds like. The guitars are massive yet never overbearing, and the rhythm section has never sounded crisper. On the acoustic “Cored to Empty,” Gabel’s production showcases Ian Graham’s unique vocal approach and that even stripped-down, the band can still craft gigantic hooks.
As Giant Orange progresses, it is obvious that Cheap Girls is comfortable in its skin. Its sound is fully developed, and with that has come confidence. Ian Graham’s vocals appear to have added power while the instrumentation seems more deliberate than ever before.
It would be a boldface lie to claim that Cheap Girls were bringing anything other than infectious pieces of pop-rock to the table, but sometimes that’s all that needs to happen. Much like the Gin Blossoms on New Miserable Experience, there’s nothing earth-shattering here, but there doesn’t need to be. There may not be a breakout hit like the Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy,” but each track on Giant Orange displays that that kind of early-1990s rock still has a place in this modern world. Cheap Girls proves that, three albums deep, it has not run out of ideas. In fact, the group’s never been better.
Cheap Girls – Giant Orange tracklist:
- “Gone All Summer”
- “Communication Blues”
- “Cored to Empty”
- “Manhattan on Mute”
- “If You Can’t Swim”
- “On/Off Switches”
- “Right Way”