Not long after Make Do and Mend went on tour to support their sophomore full-length Everything You Ever Loved, the Hartford-based punk band went on a sort of unannounced hiatus- disappearing into the ether with no timeline for return. While many felt that Everything You Ever Loved was a step back from the band’s debut End Measured Mile– I was not one of those people- the album still should have made a significantly more substantial impact than it did. Thankfully, Make Do and Mend have returned with their most deeply personal and affecting record yet.
Don’t Be Long is not what one would call a conventionally “soothing” or “comfortable” listen. Vocalist James Carroll’s vocal delivery is gruff and gritty- often to the point of throat-shredding intensity- the drums are often pulverizing, and the lyrics teeter between uncomfortable and heart-breaking regularly. Underneath that inaccessible exterior, however, is a relatability that only The Menzingers have previously achieved in the genre in the past few years.
The early portion of the record is met with almost Wild West mentality. The album kicks off with the boisterous title track, all thrashing drum beats and guitar feedback riffs, as Carroll coming out guns blazing with a growling chorus- before the album transitions into the equally hammering “Ever Since.” The band doesn’t take a moment to rest until the closing seconds of “Ever Since”, and even then the emotional weight of the track picks up right where the instrumentation leaves off. Carroll closes the track with a poignant goodbye to a former lover. “Was it something that I did or I didn’t do? / Was there something you saw in them that that I was staring through… You chose the other side of a mountain I couldn’t move.”
You see, Don’t Be Long is acutely focused on characterizing a relationship in which the spark has long since faded. Carroll adeptly displays the dimming light in the relationship- and the ensuing loneliness that seeps into the skin as a direct consequence. This culminates in a duo of songs with Spanish titles, “Sin Miedo” and “Sin Amor” respectively, which form the maidenhead of the album’s motifs. “Sin Miedo” is the more hopeful- but nonetheless the more troubling of the pair- in which Carroll admits that despite his lover being his “wit’s end,” he “promises (he) will stay always.” The latter portrays the song’s subject as beginning to realize how toxic the relationship is for him. He states of the passionless relationship, “You don’t know when it went out, but there’s no fire in you now.” The songs are separated by a wistful, somber organ- far removed from the rousing sound of church organ serenading “The Bridal Chorus.”
Don’t Be Long’s best trait is Carroll’s endlessly quotable lyrical contributions, as he absolutely eviscerates any possibility of looking at this relationship as a healthy one. On “Each of Us,” he displays how even as a relationship continues- on its last legs- it can devolve into what Pete Wentz might call being “alone together.” Carroll, through a clever and admittedly catchy vocal rhythm, “Was it the “I love you”s? or the “I’ll be home soon,”s or the “Baby, please don’t wait up”s that start to sound like raindrops. A broken record, a skipping clock. / We both know how the distance looms, but it’s a different kind of distance when you’re just in the next room.” It would not be a surprise to me if we look back on the year in December, and that is still the best lyrical verse we see all year.
The point I’m belaboring here is that Don’t Be Long is a visceral and demonstrative break-up record. While the future of Make Do and Mend may be in turmoil- the band has admitted that Don’t Be Long may be the last record they are able to put out if it isn’t a success- it is pretty apparent that Make Do and Mend are just hitting their creative stride. Punk rock needs more fully realized artists like Make Do and Mend in 2015- hopefully they’re able to stick it out.