Philadelphia (via Scranton)
Philadelphia-by-way-of Scranton punk band, The Menzingers are two years removed from Epitaph debut On The Impossible Past. Voted Album of the Year by Absolute Punk and Punk News, the universal acclaim praised the band for its punk roots and quintessentially Midwest romantics. The same accolades have followed The Menzingers since forming as teenagers, followed since Chamberlain Waits (2010) and A Lesson In The Abuse of Information Technology (2007).
No longer housemates in Scranton, PA, the title to The Menzinger’s 2014 follow-up, Rented World, mirrors the band’s lifestyle since moving to Philly in 2008. The band was renting separate spaces around the city, but maintaining a practice space in North Philly where the majority of the record was written.
Faithfully archetypal Rust Belt punk, Rented World is an album concerned with maintaining a sense of self, the softening of posture, and the burden of harsh realities. In every respect, The Menzingers went into Rented World asking more of themselves. As co-songwriter and guitarist Tom May notes, The Menzingers felt like a different band in 2013.
Rented World remains punk, while fearlessly colliding the snarl of emo with grungy, 90s grit (“Bad Things”) and exploring the celestial expanse of post-rock (“Transient Love”). It’s slightly new territory for a band coping with their mid-twenties, and whether you’ve been there or you’re on the way there, it’s important to note a maturation that comes with the milestone.
“When you’re 15 you view music and the music industry a certain way,” May said. “But by the time you’re 25 you have a different view. Not that it’s good or bad, but getting older itself has changed the music.”
While the previous two records live in the trademark angst of Chicago producer Matt Allison (Alkaline Trio and Lawrence Arms) and his Atlas Studio sound, Menzingers kept it Philly-local for Rented World, enlisting Jonathan Low, whose distinctively rich Americana resonates through the careers of The War On Drugs, Sharon Van Etten, Kurt Vile, and The National.
The band as a whole recognized shifts in their craft, shifts they knew would best be handled by Low at Miner Street Recordings. “We wanted to go to somebody who wasn’t used to recording punk records,” Tom May said. “Though it wasn’t in a pretentious way, like we wanted to become an indie rock band.”
With that in mind, album opener “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” is not just a declaration to be better to that special someone, but a bold recognition that permeates the record on into “Nothing Feels Good Anymore”. Shaking oneself out of ruts, still life stagnancy, and the same damn party every weekend informs two of Rented World’s most anthemic offerings.
While the front end of Rented World mostly focus on the complications of friendships and relationships, the latter songs progress towards the abstract. “The Talk” kicks the surgeon general’s number one killer out the front door (“I want my life back / you turned my chest black / I don’t owe you anything”), while “Sentimental Physics” addresses with the impossibility of compromise in the science vs. religion battle, “you can come find me / when you feel lost in a bidding war”.
On “In Remission” Barnett’s insecurities manifest as “I hate how I always get nervous every time I try to speak / in front of a big crowd / a pretty girl / or the police”, meaning The Menzingers didn’t write the answers into Rented World. The record admits to an in medias res that comes with one’s late 20s, old enough to know better, but still seeking greater wisdom.
Things start to feel a little more serious,” Tom May said. “When we were younger we wrote fiery songs because at that age it’s your world view. Things feel wrong and you want to say how wrong it is. Now, I look at the world with a view of ‘well, I’m not right all the time’.”