Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Cheap Cassettes make an album!

When it comes to the iconic musical twosomes, the likes of The Captain & Tennille, Hall & Oates, and Sonny & Cher surely come to mind. The only things separating The Cheap Cassettes from an honored place in history alongside such titanic pairings are some epic facial hair and perhaps a juicy guest spot on The Love Boat. Poised to dress sharper than Wham and rock harder than Right Said Fred, these handsome fellas are bringing duos back to prominence. Air Supply will be sending out a thank you note! Given the many years we diehard fans have eagerly awaited its release and the countless tabloid shenanigans associated with the group's tantrum-prone vocalist, The Cheap Cassettes' debut album could rightfully be hailed as the Chinese Democracy of power pop. The major difference is that it would actually make sense if Tommy Stinson joined this band. Too bad he's kinda busy at the moment.

If you've been living under a rock the last few years (or more likely, have the good sense to never read this blog), you may not know that The Cheap Cassettes are ex Dimestore Haloes Chaz Matthews and Kevin Parkhurst (an original third member, the German expat Max Schitter, is currently serving 25 years to life for wearing white after labor day). While living thousands of miles apart all this time, Chaz and Kevin have nonetheless found a way to collaborate in the writing, recording, and producing of All Anxious, All The Time - one of the finest power pop albums of recent memory. This should come as no surprise if you consider that the Haloes made their best record after Kevin joined the band. And while this particular project seems largely inspired by the Chilton/Twilley/Westerberg strain of rock n' roll songwriting, you could argue that the Haloes were already hinting at such a direction by the time they called it quits. So The Cheap Cassettes are less of a reinvention and more of a logical next step for this talented twosome. Chaz Matthews has been one of my favorite singers and songwriters since the late '90s, and he hasn't officially released music since 2005. I'd maintain that his absence from the punk/rock n' roll scene in recent years has created a huge void. Now he and Kevin are back - and in prime form! In a year full of amazing albums, they've given us one of the very best. It's out now on the band's own label, Cassettes On Record Records.

Credit Chaz and Kevin for using modern technology in the best of ways. This album actually began as just a few songs posted on-line back in the prehistoric days of 2011 (these guys were on Bandcamp before Bandcamp was cool!). More songs were gradually added as they were finished, and by this summer The Cheap Cassettes had amassed enough tunes to fill a full LP. Better yet, they remixed/remastered those songs and pressed them onto shiny compact disc. So All Anxious, All The Time is an actual tangible product you can purchase and own! You can carry it with you to the bathroom and flick it at your enemies like a ninja star! With one foot in scruffy Stones/Replacements rock n' roll and the other in classic power pop, The Cheap Cassettes demonstrate that massive hooks and well-crafted choruses don't necessarily make a band "slick". This record has a nice "rough around the edges" feel to it - a quality these guys wear well. Musically and lyrically, I'd put the likes of "My Little Twin" and the soul-inspired title track up there with the best songs Chaz has ever written. And "Wreckless" is a bona fide rock n' roll anthem - like a "Bastards Of Young" for my generation ("We didn't die young/And we didn't grow up/Parents and friends they died on us/We kept going somehow"). Whether you're talking about heartfelt ballads ("Girlfriend"), gloriously sloppy rock n' roll (Kevin's brilliant "Good And Shitty"), or hooky arena rock ("Seconds Of Pleasure"), the band's pop sensibilities absolutely shine. And as always, Chaz has written some amazing lyrics. Belying its upbeat feel, the title track is a powerful statement about the crippling nature of anxiety. And with humor and insight, songs like "Sig Heil (Means I Love You)" and "Get Low" remind us that being in love can be the greatest thing in the world and just about the worst as well.

If you didn't know that one guy was tracking these songs in Hawaii while the other was doing the same in Boston, Chicago, Michigan, and Wisconsin (the Where In The World Is Charles Matthews? video game will be out next spring), you'd have no reason to believe the two weren't together in the studio the whole time - obsessing over every last chord and stopping periodically to admire their haircuts in the mirror. Kevin handled most of the production end of this project and did a bang-up job. This album, while a few years in the making, was 100% worth the wait. Top to bottom, the songs are truly outstanding. And these two understand that a true power pop band should know how to freaking rock! With a sound that's uniquely their own yet crafted in the Who/Cheap Trick/Material Issue lineage of loud guitar pop, The Cheap Cassettes are a tremendous addition to a thriving power pop scene. Chaz and Kevin have made an album that will delight longtime fans - and surely win over tons of new ones as well. Hit up the duo's Bandcamp for a couple of free samples and two bonus cover tunes!


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