Review Summary: Why all good things should('nt) fall apart...I
t’s been awhile since I’ve been to a New York City show but within a week ago I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. A concert that consisted of major NY players- Taking Back Sunday, Bayside, and a band that was unknown to me- The Menzinger’s. I recall how uninterested the crowd was to The Menzinger’s opening up the show but their set had a certain level of energy that made me respect them even more. I went home to a show that made me feel like I was back in high school again and excited to learn more about The Menzingers. The Menzingers were conceived in the wake of two Pennsylvania punk acts, Bob and the Sagets and Kos Mos. During my listening sessions it was alluring how much fun listening to “On The Impossible Past”
was. I found it nearly impossible to not try and trace the concoction of classic punk roots with more modern acts such as Sharks and The Gaslight Anthem. What’s all of this though without passion and aggression though that has been built through the previous albums? Listening and learning about The Menzingers felt like reconnecting with an old friend who you haven’t seen in years but always had a good time sharing stories with of the past. While I might’ve gone to that show to relive what originally got me here in the first place I am relieved to say that I also have undivided attention to a band that should’ve crossed my radar a long time ago.
“On The Impossible Past”
is the first record that was released amongst The Menzingers through Epitaph records which I’m sure worried some long time listeners. As I might not be able to call myself a long time listener I found the earlier recordings to be quite brash and raw. The potential was there a long side the heart felt passion but ultimately, “On The Impossible Past”
feels like the puzzle that crams most of the pieces (or at least the important ones) together. While there will be points where the long-time listener might miss the “in your face and scream” vocal nature of previous songs like “Deep Sleep”
the progression for me is much more enjoyable. Melodies and vocal hooks feel like a commonplace on this release even more so than ever. I am a huge sucker for lyrics that mean something- something in the sense of passion that I can feel burning through your soul. While the lyrics here aren’t going to win any clever rhyming or poetry contests, the passion is painted through portrayals of life experiences and personal short comings. Tom May and Greg Barnett do their personal best combining soothing melodies and storytelling which a new listener will easily recognize as one of the focal points of this band.
Instrumentally the band decides to evolve in the most logical step forward while still holding true to a lot of what caught the ear of original listeners. Dual guitars intertwine leads and create rhythms that are accessible and friendly to the listener’s ears. Nearly every song opens with a guitar line that feels like righteous tribute to bands such as The Gaslight Anthem or Hot Water Music. A track that starts with a kick drum beat though might appear to be the stand out track on this release. “Ava House”
is a song that swells in with a kick drum beat that catches the listener off guard but draws them in with infectious verses that will inevitably have the listener marching to the band. This is one of the memorable songs that I recall from their live act and with good reason it has drawn me back again. Before this, “The Obituaries”
lead up to one of the most solid back-to-back-to back consecutive songs that will surely appeal to fans of this genre. I say this in believing that these songs offer what makes this genre so passionate and great. “The Obituaries”
leads in with an up stroked guitar chords that lead into a tasteful solo lick that is doused in reverb. I have to admit that I grinned at the lyrical reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire, as cleverly placed as it feels. Once the vocals take mold behind the bass line which moves at an up tempo bass the song develops at a captivating rate. In a genre that is growing old for the “feed the listener power chord choruses”, the Menzingers somehow makes it work and catches the listener back at the hook of where the vocals in unison punch the “I won’t *** this up- I ***ing know it” line. It did supplement a sense of immaturity and corniness but it’s nearly forgiven by how well the dual vocals are delivered. “Gates”
continues the snowball that is slowly consuming the listener. It starts off on a slower pace and appreciation is taken note on the guitar tone which has a nice edge to it but also exhibits delicate inflection. This is a song where I feel like it could’ve failed miserably taking a wrong turn at any corner but takes into account every detail and executes with a home run swing. The vocals could come off as whiny but the sincerity in the voice is what absorbed me along with the lyrics. The lyrics as vague as they might come off are easy to relate too for anyone who had a childhood between the ages of 17-21. The chorus crushes me here on how catchy it comes in and blends so well with the rest of the song. In this 3 song stretch I feel as if my duty as a listener is in total harmony with this band.
The vocal performance of this album occurs during “Mexican Guitars”
where it takes pieces of the previous albums and then adds the new polish of this one. I found myself intrigued again on how the vocals and the band behind it could feel so reinvigorating while keeping the formula simple and to the point. The selling points in the lyrics is how well they are delivered to the listener which puts them in a place where they feel like they grew up in the stories told as a supporting character to the protagonist.
While the characteristics of this band are strong at what I feel makes this genre such a joy to listen too it’s also held back by its “genre expectations” as well. Some will be turned off by how simple minded the lyrics may come and long-time fans might’ve expected something a little more crass with less polish. Call it the influence of a major label or that dreaded term of maturity but there is no doubt that this album exhibits more structure and production values then the previous. Songs like “Sun Hotel”
and “I Can’t Seem To Tell”
are not as memorable for me for what feels like generic nature that the band reverts to for a track or two. For any band that is willing to release a full length that spans near 42 minutes long there will be room to experiment and to try different things but in this comes with hit or miss results most of the time depending on the listener. For me- the Menzingers have committed a near perfect crime in refining their overall sound but still leaving evidence and clues in where they came from before “On The Impossible Past”
. While I could note these few tracks being not as memorable I’m glad to say it’s in minority for this band.
On The Impossible Past
Through one listen of “On The Impossible Past”
my opinion was nearly solidified by the original intentions I had in further exploring this band. After what seemed like looped playback for days, I started to appreciate more how pure this type of music feels and what it’s not (and what it doesn’t even need to try to be). I feel that the pace has slowed a notch from previous releases and while it’s still quick on its feet, it comes with a more strategic punch on how to win over the listener. The song writing has matured greatly from the previous releases and it shows on this album how substantial of a role it can play in combining with the already established dual vocals. The ambitious tracks here are the ones that will draw in new listeners and do its best offering old ones a reasonable compromise. On the horizon of a new age where bands try and fit an image or a trend, I felt refreshed in how much fun a new band can be to old ears that try and be just whoever they believe they should be. As I stood around surrounded by a newer generation of fans who rather have given Facebook the time of day instead of The Menzingers, I was reminded of why I’m passionate about music even if it takes years after to find my own ears.