Slumberland has a reputation as being one of the finest pop (of virtually every variety) labels around, and they’ve got a ridiculously high batting average to boot. I’ve ordered batches of records from them by artists I was previously unfamiliar with out of faith that they’d be great based on the distinction of the label alone (which I realize is a pretty reckless move, but Slumberland’s output is just that consistent, and my hunger for new, great pop is insatiable).
Disappointingly though, Killing Time by Terry Malts doesn’t quite stack up to the label’s best releases (and if you’re wondering what those are, look no farther than Romantic Comedy by Big Troubles, and Belong by Pains of Being Pure at Heart). Is that an unfair critique? Would I have listened to it with different ears if the Slumberland association wasn’t there? Well, that’s a possibility. But the majority of the songs on the album are simply unmemorable, and that’s the No. 1 disqualifier for any variant of pop.
Also, every song feels far longer than it needs to be, which might seem like a strange complaint, considering each one averages at around two minutes and thirty seconds, and the overall duration of the record is a mere 33 and a half minutes. However, it’s something that’s problematic: you shouldn’t designate a whopping (in pop, or especially pop/punk, land) three minutes and five seconds to drawling, unimaginative dopiness like the kind that consumes “Waiting Room” unless you’re trying to lull your listener to sleep or provide music to fill out paperwork to (which shouldn’t be any aspiring pop artist’s objective, although I guess there’s a possibility it was his – after all the song is entitled “Waiting Room”). Songs like the Ramones-esque but melody castrated “Mall Dreams” feel like prog rock epics due to their awkward protractedness.
Even the hookiest song on the album, “No Good For You”, which features some crafty guitar-work and an admittedly ingenuous vocal harmony in the “A” section, doesn’t quite know when to call it quits (and seriously: what’s up with the contrived feedback that prolongs virtually every song on the record by like, ten seconds?) “What Was It” is another standout, due to its punk-rock brevity more than anything else, and every song on Killing Time could have benefitted from being closer to it in length. Closing track “No Big Deal” contains the best line on the record (“No big deal / That was just my heart you ripped out”) and sort of sounds like if McCartney and Lennon experimented writing a song on Hydrocodone (which I’m sure they must have, at one point). The call and response vocals in the chorus are also near-brilliant, and the solo towards the end might be the only real inspired guitar-playing on the record, but the last tacked-on fifty seconds of excess noise exemplifies Terry Malts’ tendency to fill in gaps that are better left empty. Killing Time isn’t a very compelling pop record, although I suppose there are much worse ways to, well, kill time.
// Notes from the Road
"We’re coming to see HEALTH for the experience, for the kind of intense musical attack that leaves one needing a stiff drink...READ the article