Garage rock is certainly no stranger to the musically diverse Toronto. From the Horseshoe, to the Silver Dollar, and to many of the city’s less glamourous venues, Toronto has no shortage of venues on any given night where one can catch the rawest form of rock and roll live. Toronto’s The Cheap Speakers are nothing new within this genre, but they are definitely a very welcome addition to the strong Toronto indie music community.
The Cheap Speakers are Brennan Gault (Bass, Vocals, Keys), Natalia Manzocco (Guitar, Vocals), Tim Dafoe (Guitar, Backing Vocals) and David Kochberg (Drums, Backing Vocals).While the Cheap Speakers formed in 2007, they are actually just releasing their self-produced debut album now. Over the past 5+ years, they’ve toured, released a critically-acclaimed 2010 self-titled EP, and toured some more.
With its driving lead guitar, opener ‘Springtime’ sets the tone for the album with a simple yet catchy two chord progression. It is instantly clear that The Cheap Speakers are a band who have refined their craft on the road, and are determined to translate their energy and live chemistry into a recording worthy of their live reputation. Switches and Levers accomplishes this goal. Instantly, one will notice that the production is actually quite polished, especially for a band called The Cheap Speakers. All of the quartet’s instruments are easily distinguishable here, yet the band still retains a distinctive garage rock sound.
The album continues at a steady pace for several numbers until the band turns up the pace and their amplifiers on the obvious lead single ‘Looking Backwards’, which features a catchy, sing-along chorus. Gault’s lead vocals are slightly subdued for the genre, and Gault doesn’t display a lot of range. However, he is more than competent for the band’s sound, and Manzocco’s voice offers a nice occasional contrast. Additionally, Gault does display a strong sense of melody that often suggests a power pop influence. While this isn’t a Sloan record, this album definitely recalls the great Cancon indie rock from the beginning of the last decade.
On ‘Denying Me’, the band display a gritty southern rock sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Kings of Leon album. Following this strong middle section, the album temporarily slows for the acoustic ‘Except You’ Manzocco sung-ballad and with ‘It Just Seems’, a song about realizing a relationship isn’t what it once was. Lyrically, themes such as frustration and negativity are occasionally present through Gault’s honest lyrics, although songs like ‘Something Beautiful’ and ‘Claire’s Smile’ offer a much more positive vibe. The Cheap Speakers pick up the mood once more for a strong three song finale. The last of those three, “Siren Pt. 1” is a proper album closer, beginning with a solid buildup, and finishing with a release of Dafoe and Manzocco’s jamming guitars coupled with Gault’s fiery vocals.
A definite strong point of The Cheap Speakers is the notable guitar work. Throughout the album, Dafoe and Manzocco display a confident and competent lead and rhythm guitar section. After multiple listens, many of their riffs become exceptionally memorable. While there are only a few solos present here, the emphasis of the music is on the band as a unit, and everyone involved definitely contributes to that.
From one of the finest new garage rock bands in the Toronto scene, The Cheap Speakers’ Switches and Levers is an impressive debut that presents a band with a sense of urgency and staying power.
Recommended if you like: The Constantines, Hollerado, The Vaccines, Sloan