I see someone’s been reading the May 2003 issue of Bicycling.

I’ve given them a brief mention previously on the blog, but somehow I keep coming back to Cheap Girls, hoping to find glowing testimonials to them on punk music blogs or local Michigan papers (Metro Times gave it a shot, and so once again, they’re gold stars in my book).  Most press about the band goes back to the 90s for its reference points, looking at Superdrag, Dinosaur Jr, or the Gin Blossoms.  Even given how much I hate comparing bands to other bands, I’ve got to offer this:  Cheap Girls are younger brothers  of Big Star. No, that’s not hyperbolic.  Yes, they are that good.

What made that comparison for me was not either of their full lengths,  2008’s Find Me a Drink Home or last year’s My Roaring 20’s, but a radio session that bassist/singer Ian Grahm and guitarist Adam Aynor recorded on the Philadelphia radio station, WKDU near the end of last year.  Stripped of the thick,  hardcover production of their studio recordings, the band reveal how poetic, sad and poignant a genre as maligned as pop punk can be.

Grahm’s voice fills up these versions, and it does so to wonderful effect.  He has one of those voices that probably couldn’t hold a note for more than five seconds, and so every line he sings feels abrupt and hurried.  That perfectly matches the restive tone of these songs.

There are choice lines in all five of the songs the band recorded in these sessions.  “Stop Now” begins, “The kids get drunk. The kids get sad.  They start telling stories that they didn’t even know they had.”  There’s just a little pause before  Grahm returns with “But I always leave early, so this is just what I hear.”   The song set’s up a perfectly believable and honest scene, which is great, but the way the narrator immediately subverts his own description of teenage angst is almost literary.

“Hey Hey, I’m Worn Out” ‘s titular chorus has the kind of gallows humor that is almost impossible to have when you’re stuck in the middle of a rut, the kind that you can usually only appreciate when you’re out the other end.  But then again, Cheap Girls don’t just specialize in clever lines.  Instead every song feel genuine as it pushes and pulls through feelings both worn out and skyward.”Fort Lauderdale” chronicles the feeling of being young in a mid-sized city, surrounded by just enough people to feel isolated, but unfortunately, not enough people to create a strong cultural base.    It’s about actors and artists who are actually waitresses and valets.  While it would be so easy to belittle people in such a situation, call them naive or pretentious, that’s not the path the song takes.  “Oh do you think you could be friends with a waitress?”  Grahm asks, knowing the labels that haunt us when we’re young and not measuring up to other people’s, or even our own definition of success.   It’s this wide-eyed, wise, and non patronizing voice which makes the Big Star comparison apt for me.   Start with the accoustic, then go to the studio.

Stop Now”  “Hey Hey, I’m Worn Out”  and “Fort Lauderdale”  are from Cheap Girls’ live radio session on WKDU which you can download here.  You can buy the bands’ album which these songs originally came from here.  The band’s myspace is here.  They’re playing Brooklyn in March.  I’m there.

and, just for comparison’s sake,

Watch The Sunrise” and “I’m In Love With a Girl” are from Big Star’s first and second album respectively (which are, at this point packged together)  #1 Record and Radio City.

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