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.






Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.