Friday, June 29, 2012

REVIEW: The Menzingers -- On the Impossible Past

I think On the Impossible Past is a really important album that everyone should know about. That's how I answer myself when I ask myself why I feel the need to do this review, when the album came out 4 months ago on a big-time label (Epitaph), and, for a period of weeks if not months, had the highest new release metascore on Metacritic. Hell, I've owned this album for months, listened to it dozens of times. My wife is obsessed with it, and it would get her vote for AOY if there were universal suffrage in this principality. Yet no one else I know knows about this record. Maybe that means I hang out with a bunch of stiff honkies, and despite my generally malevolent disposition toward white people, the observation is not entirely off-base. But do this -- go to Pitchfork (who are, self-styled at least, unstiff honkies) and type Menzingers into their search field. You get "sorry, no results match your query." Wha?

The Menzingers formed in Scranton, Pennsylvania a few years ago, and are now based out of Philadelphia. They are a true American punk band, with songs about girls, drinking, and dreaming about getting to some place different, and maybe better, than here (wherever here is). They take their punk music and cram it into perfect popsong structures. The playing is beautiful and very loud. The singing is powerful and emotive (but not emo), careening between straight-played rock vocals and surprising harmonies and well-spaced yelling. I'm not overselling the very broad appeal of what this band does. Indeed, verily let it be said, negatively I crappeth thee. Here's the video of their song "Nice Things":

The group is a traditional four piece (two lead singers is traditional now, no?), with Tom May and Greg Barnett singing and playing guitar, Joe Godino on drums, and Eric Keen on bass. Once I was drawn in by the great songs and great playing, I started hearing other things -- mainly lyrics that are intelligent and measured and authentic all at once. This is one of those rare bands that seems effortlessly to be able to distill the sublime from the prosaic. They draw believable characters, and put them in familiar bad places. Sometimes it gets to the point of making you wonder whether you used to know these people. Consider this, from the terrific song "Mexican Guitars":

You were an old friend
The kind I could confide in
And drink with on random neighbors' porch steps
Our glossy eyes painted portraits of the streets
You were an old friend
That covered up your innocence
With five tattoos of all the bands you loved in high school
The ones you said that I had to listen to all the time

Hell, consider the song itself:

There are 13 songs on this record, and not a weak half-note to be heard. Not only do I have trouble listing a favorite, but, maybe more illustrative of my irrational infatuation, there's no way in hell I could name a least favorite. Sure, some songs speak to me more than others. For example, the (nsfw) chorus of "Obituaries" would serve well as the epitaph on my gravestone:

I'm all for the idea behind this blog's mission to write only about music we like. There's so much great stuff being released every day that it doesn't make any sense to me (or to my friends who write here) to spend time writing about music that we consider crappy for one reason or another. What's the point? To try to influence you not to buy it? We ain't Consumer Reports. The flip-side of that, though, is that I worry I run the risk of sounding like a teenage cheerleader when I get to fawning over this or that album -- to the point of abandoning any critical credibility. I mention this here because I really do think this Menzingers album is important in a way that other albums I've reviewed may not be. We need to try to keep them around and writing and playing for a long time.

Menzingers on Facebook

Menzingers Epitaph page (you can buy the album here)

1 comment:

Alex said...

Your sentiment is exactly like mine - I stumbled onto this album solely from meandering around websites looking for something new to listen to when I saw it atop Metacritic's music rankings. I'd never heard of the Menzingers and cued it up on Spotify and was basically blown away from the start. It is the best album I've heard this year, hands down. I have no idea why it hasn't received more attention.