If you’re in a punk band, what do you do once you hit your 30s? Do you move your sound away from punk to avoid sounding washed-up, or do you continue in the same vein to extend your youthful energy as much as possible? Well, the party’s all but over for The Menzingers, but they prove with their newest studio effort that you don’t have to pledge allegiance to either side once the hangover subsides. Instead, with After the Party, they face the reality of moving forward, exploring the inevitable with refined spirit and newfound brawns.
To bridge the nearly three-year gap between The Menzingers’ previous record, Rented World, and this one, all you have to do is take a listen to “Lookers” to notice their maturity. A slower offering than what fans are used to from the high-flying New Jersey punks, the track fuses silky rock instrumentation with Greg Barnett’s nasally vocal delivery to create a somber, toned-down punk anthem. As one of the album’s most delicate cuts, it showcases a band coming to terms with the past while looking forward. Oozing with raw guitars and jarring yells, “Thick As Thieves” and “Midwestern States” find the band in their more vintage selves. Still, they contain enough melody for a late-night sing-along and smoothly fit into the context of the record.
Small touches like backing acoustic guitars weld punk and rock into one free-flowing entity, and they make the 2017 version of The Menzingers a hearty and engaging affair. Though it means less singing from guitarist Tom May, whose coarse vocals create a powerful dynamic when paired with Barnett’s, it seems more fitting to have Barnett guiding the listener across the album’s barren amusement park of a canvas. “Charlie’s Army” and “Bad Catholics” smash one second, then sparkle the next, and their sleek hooks and vibrant melodies come together to form a delectable listen. The excellent balance of the dissonant and pristine never ceases to impress, whether within individual songs or across several. The purely acoustic “Black Mass”, as well as the more electric-driven closer “Livin’ Ain’t Easy”, enter The Gaslight Anthem territory in terms of alternative rock goodness.
“Charlie’s Army” proves that the outfit’s ability to write catchy punk songs hasn’t gone anywhere — if anything, it’s improved. From memorable blends of guitar parts to alluring vocal repetitions, the quintet hones in on musical elements both big and small. Their execution nearly matches their vision, as After the Party brings about Americana, near-Springsteen vibes throughout its examination of the past and present, and it makes bangers like “Tellin’ Lies” and “Thick As Thieves” rise to a near-anthemic state. Any sign of a band mellowing out is offset by soaring choruses and emotion-packed lyrics, which in turn give the act’s fifth full-length massive replay value.
After the Party makes it evident that The Menzingers are getting older. But rather than hiding the fact, the band throws it out in the open and uses it as a point of reference across its 45 minutes. Thanks to their refined sound and tightened songwriting, the quintet holds their strongest candle to On the Impossible Past with their 2017 effort. A considerately moody and consistently bona fide punk record, After the Party will likely end up one of the genre’s best albums of the year.
Punk/Rock | Epitaph Records