Pop-punk is a genre that’s often accused of remaining forever teenage, even as band members themselves age out of that demographic. As Slumberland Records’ premier purveyors of pop-punk, Terry Malts have flirted with this notion over the course of their discography—after all, this is a band that ended their last record of lo-fi bubblegum asking: “Why so serious?” On third LP “Lost At The Party,” they answer their own question.
Lost at the Party is Terry Malts’ most straight-faced record to date, firmly rooted in the moment a person realizes that actions do, in fact, have consequences. But it’s also great pop music; the catchy melodies are the spoonful of sugar that makes the bitterness of grown-up life go down easy. Each song plays like a mini-drama, grappling with self-delusion, over-indulgence, denial, self-pity and quiet resignation—emotions that should be familiar to anyone who’s gone through an identity crisis. “You spent all your days here/ Acting so cavalier,” sings vocalist and bassist Phil Benson on “Playtime,” the album’s longest track. It also offers the album’s thesis statement: “Playtime has gone on for too long.”
Lost at the Party is the first LP Terry Malts recorded at a studio rather than in a practice space, and the band takes advantage of the leap up, employing organs and 12-string guitars to fill out their sound. Still, the album never feels labored over. Like the best pop, it feels effortless—even joyful—as it barrels through painful subject matter. The soft indie pop jangle of “Gentle Eyes” and fragile optimism of “Your Turn” contrast well against the buzzy, defiant feel of “Used to Be” and “Won’t Come to Find You.” Guitarist Corey Cunningham shines here, using various tones to slice through Benson’s thick bass lines and drummer Nathan Sweatt’s propulsive rhythms, underscoring the record’s inner drama with musical references that are enjoyable for both the casual listener as well as the pop scholar. A highlight: the moment the anguished punk crunch of “Come Back” melts into a buoyant Beatles-esque guitar solo, like the sudden arrival of an old friend in a time of need.
Lost at the Party is the rarest of beasts: the adult pop record. It’s only 30 minutes long, but its emotional impact lingers long after the solemn sound of church bells have closed out final track “When the Nighttime Comes.” In context, the sound feels like the start of a new day.