On “Waiting Room,” the sixth track from Bay Area fuzz punks Terry Malts’ appropriately titled and equally brief debut LP Killing Time, lead singer and bassist Phillip Benson croons into the tinned out microphone: “In the waiting room / It doesn’t looks so good.” He later adds, “I don’t want to be a hobby / So if you want me / You know where I’ll be.” It’s a deliberately simple rhyme scheme in an ostensibly lovelorn track, but it’s one that provides an uncluttered view of the type of sentiment to which Terry Malts is predisposed; they’re obviously having fun, but haven’t much interest in fucking around.
Since signing to Slumberland records in 2011, this San Francisco trio (the aforementioned bassist and vocalist Benson, along with guitarist Corey Cunningham, and drummer Nathan Sweatt) has spent the better part of the last year dribbling out lo-fi opuses on 7″ and compilations that couldn’t wear out their welcomes even if each track had exceeded two minutes or so in length (note: they didn’t). Cheekily referred to as “Chainsaw Pop,” Terry Malts exhibit all the expected scuzzy fundamentals, but have a sleekness that lends to their pop characteristics in a big way. Like The Exploding Hearts before them (or, oh I don’t know, THE RAMONES), Terry Malts has this preternatural talent when it comes to finding that one clean hook to rise above the surplus of noise, and all of those jagged theatrics. On Killing Time they do this often, and well.
It should come as no surprise that there is an electric undercurrent radiating behind everything that Terry Malts does on Killing Time. And, yeah, that references the buzzing, lo-fi love affair that the production of this album so obviously covets; but it’s more than that. There’s a frenetic charm that coats things, that makes the experience equally scruffy, naive, and completely world weary. Killing Time may be deliberately transparent regarding its stylistic decisions, but there isn’t much about Terry Malts that comes across as forced.
Opening shot “Something About You,” with its almost comfortably predictable three chord progression, works like a buzz saw, sparking and rattling through its two minutes and change before relenting seamlessly into the lamentations of “Not Far From It.” Following a similar method, the LP begins adding texture to its base. The almost paper thin percussion, like wood pounding on sheet metal, sounds downright tenuous when placed beneath the throbbing bass lines of “Tumble Down,” while Terry Malts try their hands at hooks through repetition to some damn pleasing results.
Brandishing a vocal mix that can sometimes resemble echoes crashing into one another, Killing Time is always acutely aware of itself. All of Terry Malts’ attributes are placed above a sonic palette of chugging reverb and popping momentum. While there is definitely a version of dreamy sweetness to the proceedings, the album is never even remotely saccharine. Album standout “Nauseous,” carries itself as a sort of off-color take on a love song — and it is. However, Benson’s layered bellow, and smirking delivery elevates the lumbering poetry to a graceful oddity.
Terry Malts (as a band name) means nothing, and refers to no one. The band has as much as admitted this. Where they could easily adhere to the snottiness, or bellicose tendencies of some of their peers (which would be fine), Terry Malts are far more aloof when it comes to perpetuating an image. There isn’t a lot of depth to their shallowness, and they like it that way just fine. There’s passion when it is heartfelt, fangs for when it is biting, and a wistful eye to look back upon regret. The LP’s functionality in regards to its pragmatism is one of the more surprising elements about its overall success. Killing Time is like biting down on the gumball you get for a nickel that shatters in your mouth while cutting the inside of your cheek. It may be sweet, but rest assured that at some point you’re going to taste blood.