February 24, 2012

Douglas Martin also likes Razor Ramone(s).

In a scene of The Wire pretty much only pivotal to rock nerds, Jimmy McNulty famously asked, “What the hell is wrong with the Ramones?” Well, what the hell is wrong with the Ramones? (Author’s Note: I’m mostly asking this question rhetorically, but am fully aware someone will take them to task in the comment thread.)

Essentially, they were a girl-group exclusively comprising of scraggly white dudes in leather jackets in thrift store jeans. They were a band who stripped pop music down to only its barest essentials, ratcheted up the tempo, and proved to the whole world that you didn’t need to know what a diminished seventh is in order to be a musician. Like ‘em or lump ‘em, they were one of the most revolutionary musical groups in history. Maybe they set a bad precedent in the form of zillions of sub par bands completely disinterested in learning their instruments, but nobody blamed George Washington for Ronald Reagan. In short, nothing is wrong with the Ramones.

Look, the Terry Malts sound a lot like the Ramones. There are fewer chords on debut album Killing Time than Aziz Ansari has wardrobe changes on Parks and Recreation. Phil Benson has a playfully artless monotone eerily similar to Joey Ramone. They make no false concessions about reinventing the wheel or even riding on unworn tires. Terry Malts make hilariously blown out bubblegum-punk, and this is the only standard they want you to hold to them. It’s a difficult one to fuck up, but one even harder to make truly satisfying. Killing Time easily manages the latter feat.

Thematically, the Ramones were a band that reveled in life’s simple pleasure: Romance, punk rock girls, and sniffing glue. The former is a songwriting topic as old as popular music itself, and Terry Malts certainly approach the topic with an active emotional purity. Album highlights “Something About You,” “Nauseous,” and “I Do” are classic pop tunes filtered through amps with frayed wires and the volume knob stuck at 11. I don’t see why there wouldn’t be an entry on at least one of those songs in The Complete Guide to Douglas Martin Music (coming to a bookstore near you in 2019!).

But it’s also really hard to stand out when you’re writing songs about the most exhausted songwriting topic in the world, and Killing Time succeeds in its screeds about Life as We Know It, with nagging thoughts about having nagging thoughts (“Neurotic”) and why consumerism is such a drag (The end line in the chorus for “Mall Dreams” is “A zombie’s still a zombie in J. Crew). The challenging of religious ideals in “Not a Christian” makes a perfect counter to those sort of uncomfortable Mormon commercials popping up on television lately.

In more ways than the fast pace, punk music is a relay race, with one band picking up where another left off. Buzzcocks have pretty much been trying to replicate the genius of Singles Going Steady since they released it. The Exploding Hearts had their career cut short by a fatal crash. It’s something that never dies, and its relevance will never fade, as evidenced by the genre being carried on by bands like Male Bonding, Bleached, and Terry Malts, bands that prove pop-punk doesn’t have to be a four-letter word.

MP3: Terry Malts-“Nauseous”
MP3: Terry Malts-“Tumble Down”

The Neighborhood // Terry Malts from Yours Truly on Vimeo.