The press release describes Terry Malts as “pop punk,” but the local trio is best when it breaks from that genre’s codified style. Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere, the band’s sophomore album for Berkeley imprint Slumberland Records, is a concise record of scrappy, up-tempo punk songs with melodic guitar leads, but pop-punk qualifiers stop there. The vocals switch between stoically monotone and softly whispered coos, which lend songs touches of post-punk and indie-pop. But the guitarist uses a psychedelic palette of sounds and effects. Given so many stylistic references, Terry Malts don’t neatly fit in any one genre.
As the home turf of bands like Green Day and Mr. T Experience, the Bay Area is certainly steeped in pop-punk history. But while those bands were brash and immature, Terry Malts are understated and anxious. Quick tempos don’t reflect the life of a party so much as the agitated twitches of a nervous fit. Pop-punk lyrics in the Nineties were purges of debaucherous teenage impulses. Comparatively, Terry Malts sound like ponderous shut-ins. Songs like “Life’s a Dream,” “Well Adjusted,” and “Human Race” express alienation. Corey Cunningham’s vocals are delivered deadpan, as if exhausted from trying to understand humanity.
The eleven tracks of Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere clock in at less than thirty minutes: They’re urgent vessels for creative guitar leads and clever metaphors. In the pop-punk world, Terry Malts are outsiders looking in — and advancing the genre. (Slumberland Records)