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Saturday, April 13, 2024
The Observer

The Menzingers meander through nostalgia

Joseph Han
Joseph Han

Punk rock has acquired a dubious reputation in the past decade. It simply doesn’t hold the place in the counterculture that it used to; angsty teens are more likely to find solace at an EDM show than a punk show, leaving punk behind to a primarily older audience susceptible to nostalgia. 

On the Menzinger’s “After the Party,” nostalgia comes not only from the influences of its sound but from the lyrics. Many songs have a “the way things were” focus, and the descriptor “teenage” comes up more than a few times. The hardest-hitting line comes on “Your Wild Years”: “I drove you home as you slept in the front seat after a show.” Such a lyric captures a close memory for any former teenager with punk tendencies.  

The imagery in “Your Wild Years” is personalized to the listener: “We stayed in your adolescent house” is a phrase that can’t fail to bring up images unique to the home you grew up in.  “Midwestern states” expresses a uniquely modern sense of ennui: “Most nights we fall asleep with something dumb on Netflix,” a specific mundanity yet unknown to rockers of decades past.

Nostalgia comes through better on some tracks than on others. Abundant power chords and incessant drums form a significant chunk of the album. The least mature manifestation comes on “Thick as Thieves,” an ode to mischief replicating a song you obsessed over at 13 but never spin again (recall: “Check Yes Juliet”). The encouraging thumping rhythm is conducive to running away, but not necessarily to moving forward.

Successful experimentation comes on “Lookers.” An acoustic, lo-fi, distant-sounding intro gives way to a high-energy anthem. A careful breakdown at the 2 1/2 minute mark draws the listener back. Discontinuity grants the track depth, capturing a look back at the past in both its nostalgic lyrics and pop punk sound. Thankfully, complex song structure and melodic construction breaks the mold.

As “Black Mass” exhibits, the Menzingers are at their best when they slow it down. A light tambourine overlays twinkling strings as Greg Barnett meditates in a gentle croon. The track maintains a slow and steady pace. The result is lovely and still just as intense, reminiscent of  Pinegrove. “Black Mass” is undoubtedly a high point, but the album wouldn’t benefit from a litany of similar tracks. We wouldn't have a punk album if that were the case; the effect of “Black Mass” is heightened by the contrast of the songs surrounding it. 

Opposite the smooth and mellow “Black Mass" is a track at the other  end of the spectrum. Album opener “Tellin’ Lies” is a frenzy of pure punk with rough vocals calling to mind Social Distortion. The simplicity and repetitiveness may be just what A.V. Club referred to in its review, which called the album's overall sound “weathered.” But calling it weathered is only criticism if you're missing the point — "After the Party” ends much like adolescence, burnt out but hopeful for the future.


Album: “After the Party”

Artist: The Menzingers

Label: Epitaph Records

Tracks:  “Black Mass,” “Tellin’ Lies,” “Your Wild Years,” “Midwestern States”

If you like: PUP, Anti-Flag, Bad Religion