Cheap High has been described as both a punk and a post-punk band, and truthfully, it is both. Subterranean Suburbia successfully marries the two genres, cherry-picking from both and emerging more interesting than a simple rehash of either.
The Abbotsford rockers’ first full-length release rumbles into life with the eerie “Intro” but hits its stride with “Time and Space” (previously released on the Picture Disc EP). The song is a pulsating piece of post-punk and sets the tone for the album as a whole. It is driven by ominous, Joy-Division-esque drums and jangling guitars. On top of that, raw, stream-of-consciousness vocals build to mania as the song hits its midpoint.
Thematically, Subterranean Suburbia digs into both the epic and the mundane with song titles ranging from “Time and Space” to “Cul-De-Sac Crown.” This combination mirrors the individual experience — we are both the centre of the universe and inconsequential within it. Frustration and confusion run throughout, in the lyrics and in the way the vocals range from spoken-word to scream.
The band also takes punk’s original rage and modernises it. While early British punks were antagonistic towards an archaic class system which left them with few opportunities for betterment (see The Clash’s “Career Opportunities”), Cheap High focuses instead on the concerns of here and now. The songs on Subterranean Suburbia speak to the disconnections caused by modern technology and the wealth gap. This is also referenced in the album’s title. (It is inspired by 1975 post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie A Boy and His Dog, in which the rich elite live a slightly-too-perfect suburban existence in underground bunkers.)
Listening to this album is something of an emotional journey. There’s frustration, fear, resignation, paranoia and even a little hope bundled up in there. It’s a cathartic experience where the shouted vocals are a pressure valve.
Altogether, the album presents 10 angsty songs which are thematically and stylistically similar yet different enough to hold the listener’s interest. While “Time and Space” and “Tooth and Nail” are perhaps my favourite individual songs, I would recommend listening to this moody, atmospheric work as a whole.