Recording information: Ruminator Audio, SF.
Terry Malts made their name as a super-intense punk band with plenty of pop running through their veins. With a handful of singles and a couple of albums under their belt, they seemed established as one of the finest purveyors of tough-as-nails, hooky-as-candy punk around, always delivering records that hammered listeners with an almost claustrophobic intensity that was hard to resist. The trio had something different in mind for their third album, though. On 2016's Lost at the Party, they made the leap from lo-fi to mid-fi, stripped back the wall of guitars, and took time in the studio to give the sometimes monochromatic hues of their sound a full-color revamp. With producer Monte Vallier helping out and sessions taking place at an actual studio, the band takes a giant step away from breathless punk toward something just as tough and uncompromising, but also more thoughtful and musically diverse. The big difference is that it's not all Ramones and Undertones now; they show a strong power pop influence, too. Think Dwight Twilley, the Flamin Groovies, or the Records and you'll be on the right track. The band spent some time, almost a year, really working hard to write songs that captured the energy of previous songs, but with a more melodic, definitely softer approach. To that end, the arrangements are much more filled-in and rich-sounding, with vocal harmonies, keyboards, and lots of space that lets the music breathe. The guitars are handled much differently: instead of sheets of barre-chorded noise issuing from Corey Cunningham's guitar, he's playing in a wide variety of styles with different tones on nearly every song. He utilizes tricky little solos, chiming arpeggios, echoing 12-string, and even some acoustic strumming, all of which help bring the songs to life. He also contributes the album's poppiest moment with his ringing slice of folk-rock "It's Not Me." Bassist Phil Benson's vocals are a little different, too, though still mostly deadpan. There's a little less growl and a little more croon; he even drops down to a whisper on the hushed ballad "Waiting for the Bomb." The whole band is locked into the new sound and drummer Nathan Sweatt plays with laudable restraint at times, while still showing he can bash with the best of them on the more uptempo tracks like "Won't Come to Find You." Rebooting their sound this drastically meant taking a big chance, and at first the absence of the punk guitars and hopped-up tempos is a little disarming. After the shock wears off, though, the bracing melodies and big hooks help pave over any disappointment quickly. Lost at the Party is just as immediate and exciting as anything they've done before, and it's easier to connect with. Especially if you like your power pop tilted more toward power and your punk-pop tipped in favor of pop. ~ Tim Sendra