Adrift in a landscape of emo, indie rock, hardcore, post-hardcore, pre-hardcore and countless other genres associated with punk rock and overall "independent music," Philadelphia-by-way-of-Scranton band, the Menzingers, chose to stick with what they knew and loved. Borrowing from musical influences that many of us grew up listening to (and still do), yet many often attempt to distance themselves from, the Menzingers are probably one of the most honest young bands you'll come across today. Their story began with a strong debut LP, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology, released in 2007. It seemed that everyone that heard the record was really into their mid-tempo punk rock, sprinkled with hints of Clash-esque reggae and ska. The problem was, not a lot of people were hearing it. With increased touring in 2008, a small buzz began to follow the band, culminating at the annual Fest in Gainesville, FL, where the Menzingers played an energetic set to an eager and equally energetic crowd. The performance was enough to catch the ears of Tobias Jeg and Brendan Kelly, infamous proprietors of Red Scare Industries. The label had recently begun to extend beyond their standard Midwest pop-punk fare, and the Menzingers were equally interested in joining a label to help get their music to a wider audience.
This union is what has now brought us the Menzingers' latest release, and first for Red Scare, the appropriately titled Hold on Dodge 7" (I'll get to the title, and why it fits in a little while). Just four songs, two per side, Hold on Dodge is one of the best examples of why it is often better to release a 7" or EP of a few great songs, than to attempt to combine those few great songs with a bunch of "okay" tracks on a rushed LP. For those familiar with the band's prior recordings, you'll be pleased to know they reunited with producer Jesse Cannon (King Django, INDK, Leftover Crack, Shai Hulud), who also handled their previously mentioned debut LP. Speaking of the production on the 7", Cannon did an amazing job capturing both the band's youthful energy, and accenting their individual strengths, such as harmonies, trading/contrasting vocals and dynamic rhythm. Most noticeable are the clean, yet far from overproduced backing vocals. Instead of sounding like a thunderous standout, they perfectly complement the tracks -- something many producers/engineers should learn to do.
With only four tracks, Hold on Dodge is quite the tease -- especially when each of those four songs stands on their own merits, but works well with one another to form a great release. A record, even a 7", is truly special when the listener has difficulty determining a favorite song. They are all really that good. Side A offers "Sunday Morning" and "Lilith Avi," with "Sunday Morning" starting with a drawn-out riff leading into guitarist/vocalist Greg Barnett's rough and melodically scratchy voice. The track displays the band's knack for tempo changes, leading to the buildup and infectious, sing-a-long chorus of "Don't worry brother, this will blow overâ¦"
The second track from Side A, "Lilith Avi" might be the poppiest/catchiest track the band has ever written. Starting with an almost relaxing combination of vocals from Barnett and the band's other vocalist/guitarist, Tom May, it quickly builds into an increased tempo chock full of toe-tapping pop-punk. In opposition to Barnett's more abrasive voice, May brings the harmonic balance to the band's vocals to create the perfect blend of "sweet and sour."
Side B brings us a two additional tracks standing tall on their own merits. "They Speak of My Drinking, But Never of My Thirst" is unquestionably one of the best songs in the band's brief catalog. The post-ska swagger and clever lyricism are perfect examples of the band at its best. Addressing the current epidemic of our generations' choice to find a pill for all of life's problems, May sings:
We're the Disneyland dope-fiends, it's a small world, when you're praying up to the pill;Rounding out Hold on Dodge is "Red, White and Blues," a great closing track that combines many of the band's strongest attributes -- varying vocal styles, building tempos and infectious choruses.
Generation serotonin: balanced and free, singing praise to the molecule"
The title Hold on Dodge is the band's own take on the expression "get outta Dodge," with their interpretation meaning to not jump and run away, and forgetting who you are and where you came from. Whether it was meant to relate or not, the 7" Hold on Dodge is an example of that mentality. New ideas, improved songwriting -- yet staying with what works for them and the sound they enjoy; the Menzingers aren't sitting still, but are far from forgetting who they are. In the merit system of 7" records, I can't find a single flaw with this release. Each song holds its own ground, and complements the one before or (flip record) after. I'm not sure what "perfect" is, but this record is pretty much there.