The Misery of Correcting Past Mistakes is an album that revitalizes. It answers questions and soothes my malcontent. Inevitably, I will always reach a point where I wonder if I’ve found and heard all that punk has to offer. It’s a point in time where I think that all the great songs have been written, all the best bands are broken up, and that a period of stagnation has settled down and halted progress indefinitely. These are not fun times. Punk rock’s promise is that somewhere, there will always be someone starting a band, writing great songs, and pushing the genre forward with their own unique interpretation of the its sounds and ideas, and I’m happy to say that after a personal lull, Absent Minds fulfill this promise.
Rooted in the more melodic stylings of late 80s and 90s punk rock, Absent Minds distinguish themselves by incorporating a cellist seamlessly in their lineup. I couldn’t blame anyone for yelling “gimmick!” and moving on, but it never feels like a stunt and manages to be quite cohesive throughout. The cello brings out a lot of melody and gives the music an undercurrent of beauty throughout, but it’s best moments are when the intensity ratchets up and the pretense of classical beauty is crushed for a cathartic sense of aggression. There’s something especially pleasing and somewhat subversive surrounding the idea of hearing someone rock out on a cello, but holy shit, is it thrilling.
“Autotune This!” opens The Misery of Correcting Past Mistakes with a sense of speed and melody. It’s a song that challenges the notion of plastic wrapping music into a perfect package, in direct defiance to the messy and imperfect experiences that motivate us to make it. “Autotune This!” is ultimately a positive song with a message of continuance in the face of adversity, as a particularly resonating line states near the end of the song, “What do you sing when every melodies been sung before? And waking up each day feels just like a fucking chore. It feels so awful, just remain hopeful. Pick yourself up off of the floor.”
While the cello will obviously take the spotlight on a number of songs because of its novelty, it stands to mention that throughout the album the guitar playing is amazing and captures the essence of 90s punk perfectly. The solo on “No Generation” is particularly effective, sounding like something Brian Baker could’ve played in Bad Religion, and although it’s short, it’s one of many instantly memorable and impressive solos. “Krusty Kids” might be my favorite song on The Misery of Correcting Past Mistakes, due in no small part to its huge hooks and instrumental teamwork. There’s a sense of musical clockwork present on this track that makes it feel fully conceived from top to bottom. The cello plays off the other sounds phenomenally, and surprisingly grounds the music with its simple melodies.
My favorite bands don’t take themselves too seriously. They can have gravitas, they can talk about serious issues, but there’s never a worry of them succumbing to their own self-righteousness. In a way, “Skinny Jeans” works on multiple levels, but will mostly be recognized as a funny song. It’s a playful track about the narrator not being able to get a date because of his sad lack of skinny jeans. It skewers modern punk’s fashion-centric attitude, but also sarcastically comments on male sexual entitlement (“Next thing I know, she’s blowing some dude playing cello! That’s not fair because it’s not me!”). It’s one of my favorite songs on The Misery of Correcting Past Mistakes and hearkens positively back to NOFX’s sarcastic songcraft.
I like finding music that inspires me. As punk proverb says, “go out and start a band.” That’s fine advice, and I’m glad Absent Minds took it. But for me, after a dull dry-spell devoid of quality or catharsis, The Misery of Correcting Past Mistakes was a glass of refreshing ice water in the desert. Accordingly, it inspired me differently– it inspired me to keep listening. Absent Minds reminded me that punk’s greatest records haven’t already been written, and the door hasn’t been closed to canonizing new classics. The Misery of Correcting Past Mistakes proves we’re not devotees to a dead history– indeed, punk rock is still very much alive.