Terry Malts: “I Was Not There”

Pop music comes in many, many flavors. It can be glitzy or grimy, dumber’n dirt or whip-smart. The common ground is the way, in a mere three minutes, they can tap deep, deep into the emotional core and the lizardy pleasure centers of the brain. San Francisco band Terry Malts may wrap its music in a noisy, fuzzy, punky package, but their tunes hit all the right pop places.

First things first, Terry Malts is three dudes. They are guitar player Corey Cunningham, bassist and lead vocalist Phil Benson, and drummer Nathan Sweatt. The Bay Area threesome didn’t start weren’t always punk ‘n’ roll lumberjacks wielding their own brand of “chainsaw pop” (the band’s descriptor of choice for their sound). Before Terry Malts, the three played in a jangly, indie-pop group called the Magic Bullets. They put down their Smith records and turned their guitars up, way up. But even with the amps on overdrive, the band’s pop roots cut through, a lot like The Ramones’ or The Buzzcocks’ did (two bands they’re oft compared). And, like those two bands, Terry Malts’ sense of humor shines through as well. On their latest record Nobody Realizes This is Nowhere you get track’s like the the hyperspeed “They’re Feeding” and titles like “Comfortably Dumb.”

But you also get tunes with unexpected emotional depth like today’s song of the day “I Was Not There.” You can feel the triple-time thwack of the drums deep in your chest, and when it comes to the guitar and bass, there’s more fuzz than a chicken hatchery. But wading in the distortion, the band lets some chords ride just a bit longer than others, letting their minor keys hang in the consciousness. “I think ‘I Was Not There’ is a very simple existentialist styled pop song,” said guitarist Corey Cunningham in a recent interview with website The Vinyl World. “You could think of The Ronettes doing a song about what they thought of Satre [sic] and you wouldn’t be too far off. Working, for what? Having fun, for what? Dying, for what? That sort of thing.” While The Ronettes might not be exactly the first group you’d think of when you hear the song, but you can draw the same emotional line from them to (definitely) The Ramones and The Buzzcocks to a group like Husker Du to Terry Malts. Pop comes in many packages. It can be sweet and innocent or it can come with a lightning-quick pace and a wall-of-fuzz, and if you like your pop like the latter, Terry Malts is your band.

You can see Terry Malts live this Thursday at The Mohawk along with Austin’s own Shivery Shakes.


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