The Menzingers: On the Impossible Past

Literate Pennsylvania punks go for more emotion, gut-punching heartbreak on their best album yet.

The Menzingers

On the Impossible Past

Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2012-02-21
Label website
Artist website

Punk rock can have real slow years, and 2011 was one of them. Sure, Fucked Up grabbed all the indie headlines, Frank Turner delivered another dependably solid album, and Against Me! put out that really good EP, but 2011 was kind of a wash year for the genre after a really solid 2010. A year in which we mostly saw side projects (Chuck Ragan, Brian Fallon), reunions (Blink-182) and disappointments (again, Blink-182) take over the landscape.

Hence, 2012 figures to be a big year for punk rock, as all the bands that took 2011 off are headed for new records, and all the breakthrough bands (Titus Andronicus, Fake Problems...mostly Titus Andronicus) that permeated 2010 figure to see if they can build on prior success. First out of the gate are the Menzingers, a group of highly-literate Pennsylvanians whose second record, 2010's Chamberlain Waits, was a fantastic, tidal-wave of an album that won 'Best of' honors from Punknews that year.

It gives me great pleasure to say that the band's third album, On the Impossible Past is even better. It does everything Chamberlain did (muscular riffs, wordy verses and choruses that still fit, exploration of '90s indie roots) but even better. Produced by Matt Allison (Alkaline Trio, the Lawrence Arms), the same man that was at the controls for Chamberlain, On the Impossible Past not only sees the Menzingers growing stronger, but also growing up, and in a way that accentuates their sound for the better.

First, let's talk about "Gates", obviously the stand-out track. A slow-building anthem about loneliness in middle America (with references to the band's hometown of Scranton) it demands your attention, with a heart-breaking chorus ("I'm marching up to your gates today / To throw my lonely soul away") and verses that speak to the truth of growing up young, drunk and bored. I can look back on this and laugh if I need to, but I don't know that I'll hear a better song in 2012.

What helps is that it's no fluke, and the rest of On the Impossible Past serves itself around that theme. It's maybe one or two name-drops away from being a concept album about growing up in the Midwest. Opener "Good Things" bathes lovingly in self-loathing. Singer Greg Barnett has an almost Morrissey-esque croon, before then screaming the song's manifesto, "I've been having a horrible time / Trying to pull myself together." If there's a line that stands for this album, that's it.

Other highlights include the quite-chorus/loud-verse "Ava House", the half-acoustic "Sculptors and Vandals", and the album's emotional climax, "Casey". The song's titular heroine, much like many of the Menzingers paramours, is a tragically loved waitress who yells louder than any Manic Pixie Dream Girl, "cause it was so much easier than dealing with anything," screams Barnett. It's blood-curdlingly honest and heartfelt, without reducing itself to sappiness.

On the Impossible Past is an impeccably crafted melodic hardcore record by a group ready for it's close-up. Without a single misstep throughout, it might be the most consistent punk record since Searching for a Former Clarity. It's high time these guys became stars, and they have the perfect record with which to do it.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.