Much like the new albums by The Sidekicks and Menzingers, the newest Cheap Girls album is a call-back to the college rock and power pop bands of the 80’s and early 90’s. The biggest difference between Cheap Girls and the other two bands, however, is that this is the approach that the band has always taken, rather than starting as a gruff punk band before gradually mellowing out. If anything, Cheap Girls have become more sonically aggressive over the course of their three albums and various splits and singles, and Giant Orange is a testament to just that.
One can make jokes that it was signing to Rise Records that encouraged the band to beef up their sound (don’t worry, that’s not why), but it’s more likely that getting to work with Tom Gabel (of Against Me!) influenced the louder production values, making the album come off with a similar sound to the last few Against Me! releases, particularly White Crosses and the Russian Spies / Occult Enemies single. The songs are all clear as day, and Gabel’s production allows for Cheap Girls to finally explore their own sound. Both lyrically and structurally, the band’s songs haven’t changed a whole lot since their debut, but they’ve been together long enough that they are now playing comfortably with each other and their musicianship has never sounded more together. This will hopefully help them to avoid accusations of being a “Gaslight Anthem” type band who are trying to relive a past decade they weren’t alive to witness.
Cheap Girls have always had a very strong Smoking Popes influence in their sound, and Giant Orange is no exception as vocalist Ian Graham still croons on each of the album’s ten tracks. Out of all three of the band’s albums, Giant Orange showcases how far Graham has come as a singer, as he has never sounded as confident on a studio recording as he does now. The whole album provides evidence of this, but no song shows off his new confidence as much as Pacer does. He’s still singing about the hardships in his life, but his voice shines throughout the five minute duration and it’s hard to believe that it’s the same quiet singer heard on Find Me a Drink Home only four years ago. Even the sole acoustic number, Cored to Empty, which is a lyrical downer (“When you first found me, I was dirty, broken cored to empty/I’m not much better now”), has Ian Graham singing with much more confidence than he did when he recorded Her and Cigarettes all those years ago. One can only hope that the band also continues to write songs that utilize the backing vocals, as the harmonies complement Graham’s voice in an ever-so-sweet manner similar.
All-in-all, Giant Orange is arguably Cheap Girls’ best work. Whereas their contemporaries in The Sidekicks and the Menzingers have created great albums by constantly shifting genres and playing with new sounds, Cheap Girls have stuck to just a single sound, but perfecting it over time and getting better at it with each new release. They might not have what it takes to top an album like Watch the Throne, but Cheap Girls most definitely has what it takes to become huge in the college radio circles.