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Album Review: The Menzingers – “Hello Exile”

The Menzingers were the first band I could truly say was my own. I was twenty-one when On the Impossible Past came out, and looking back, I’m not sure there was ever a better time to be that young. For myself and others, the Menzingers had just written an album that could be considered as monumental as Reinventing Axl Rose or Caution. And since then, they’ve toured endlessly and continued releasing quality albums. Sure, they’re not as fast and screamy as they used to be, but they’ve settled into a comfortable niche within the greater world of punk and indie, and more importantly, they occupy this space with consistently poignant songcraft. 

Hello Exile follows up After the Party, which in a lot of ways, was as career-defining as On the Impossible Past. This makes for a challenging release, as how many great albums does any band have in them? What’s always impressed me about the Menzingers is how they’re able to crank out so many of these great songs, and really, Hello Exile is no different. The songwriting is there, just as before (maybe too much as before, actually), and the melodies are just as sticky. Is this album a masterpiece? Well, no. After the Party and On the Impossible Past still lay the best claim to that elusive victory, but Hello Exile is no slouch, and while it may be divisive, it still brings the heart and lyricism that its fans crave. 

That being said, the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Hello Exile lay within its songwriting. The Menzingers have always been a songwriting-forward band, and as such, I think that’s a fair place to start, with both my praise and my criticism. Here, we have the band progressing into exciting new heights, and falling back onto old crutches. Opening song “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” is one of my favorites of the album and it’s also the punkiest. Which means, if you’re reading between the lines—that no, this is not the album where the Menzingers’ reclaim their title as a raw-throated punk rock group. The song itself is a driving force though and it’s nice to see the band react politically (“what kind of monster did our parents vote for?”). They’ve always been a thoughtful band, and they again prove that in spades, even dropping a line referencing totalitarian Vichy France. “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” continues a career-spanning tradition of opening their albums with absolute bangers. 

“Anna” is an equally great song, but it’s also where the band begins to look a little exposed. Here, is a wonderful track about a long-distance relationship, featuring a helluva hook. But here, we start seeing the limited subject matter inherent in the Menzingers’ songwriting. With lyrical references to Nabokov in his back pocket, we’ve all grown accustomed to guitarist/singer Greg Barnett as a deep literary reader. I’m pretty sure I’ve even read an interview where he mentions wanting to tackle writing a novel. These are awesome aims for anyone, let alone the primary songwriter in a punk band. But all artists can fall into the trap of repeating themselves. We’ve seen far too many songs about growing up, being reckless in Bukowski-certified ways, and doomed relationships. If I were Barnett’s writing coach right now, I’d be telling him he needs to push himself into new perspectives and subject matter. He needs to take an inventory of his common tropes and start building beyond them. Because, right now, it’s okay—“Anna” is one of my favorite songs on the album. But how many more “Anna”’s can we take before we start seeing the dove hidden in his sleeve?

“High School Friend” trods-well on familiar notes of nostalgia as well, but it does so with a sense of purpose, setting up the album’s theme of growing up before your time. This is, in a way, a sequel album to After the Party, it’s thematic mate. “Hello Exile,” the title track, is actually one of the stranger tracks I’ve seen the Menzingers do in recent years, and because of that, it has grown on me as one of the highlights of the new album. It has a swanky, cocktails-in-first-class feel throughout its opening, growing into a bluesy, Americana drenched singalong. It’s one of the best songs on the album and features some of Barnett’s most vivid imagery to date. “Strain Your Memory” is probably the song that most fans will be wishing the band would write more of, and it’s easy to understand why. In an album of plaintive mid-tempo jams, this is the mid-album rager that’ll get bodies moving in the pit. Of course, as is standard, it comes with a melody that fits easily on the throat and tastes sweet on the tongue. 

It’s not fair to paint Hello Exile as a riskless album though, because it does actually takes some large strides forward. “I Can’t Stop Drinking” is a great example of this. At five minutes and ten seconds, it’s the longest track on the album. I like that it challenges some of the Menzingers’ repeated imagery (“…and we drove back drunk through the busy city streets.”) with what is an ironically sober look at themselves. Greg Barnett is rightly lauded for his short story approach to songwriting, often taking his lyrics behind the eyes of another character. But, “I Can’t Stop Drinking” feels cutting, personal, and painful. I hope that both approaches survive into the band’s future, but it serves as a stark reminder of where all these pretty words are born. 

“Farewell Youth” completes the album’s arc with its chorus, “I was always hanging out with the older kids.” It feels like the Menzingers closing a chapter on themselves. These guys are just a little bit older than me, so probably feeling pretty similar things as they’re entering their thirties. They’ve spent over a decade as the Menzingers, a single unit with no personnel changes. That’s an impressive feat, especially while staying grounded enough to keep their audience engaged with their heartfelt melancholy. “Farewell Youth” doesn’t feel sad though, and it echoes a sentiment from the album’s opener, where Barnett croons, “Oh, how do I steer my early 30’s/ Before I shipwreck, before I’m 40.” The keyword is steer. There is control present, an eagerness for the future that can’t quite eclipse what’s passed behind them. It’s bittersweet, but as this album closes a chapter, I’m interested in where the ship takes us next. 

As so far, I’ve talked mostly about Barnett’s contributions to the album; these songs have come to define the sound of the band for many, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tom May’s contributions to the album. He’s only got three songs on the album, but they’re three of the best he’s written, “Portland” being my personal highlight. I have mixed feelings here because I believe that the voice of a band is a difficult thing to navigate, because bands, by their very nature, are a collaborative art. But, because of the relative lack of Tom May’s songs, the cohesiveness of the album diminishes. There’s already a jolting difference in songcraft between the two writers (which I believe was at its finest point back in the OTIP days, as far as interplay and shared aims are concerned). One is nostalgic and wistful, carrying the band toward a more poetic direction. The other is sharp and declarative, the punkier heart of the band. I’d like to see these collaborate deeper in their compositions, combining their voices to do away with the notion of Greg-songs or Tom-songs, and just write Menzingers songs. 

So, what else can I say about a new Menzingers album? 

How about this—the biggest fuck up the Menzingers have committed is being good enough to become anyone’s favorite band. This is a review filled with nitpicks and suggestions, it gives praise and criticism to songs in equal breaths. Why? Because the Menzingers mean more to me than any other band, and with that affection, comes a sense of ownership. The Menzingers are my band. They’re the ones I learned to drink to, traveled hours to see, and became the go-to singalong for my group of friends. If all those sad-sack, Barnett-penned relationship songs have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t help but pick apart the things we love. Hello Exile shows the band stretching their limbs, ending an era with maturity and verve. It features some new tricks and also features some we’ve seen before. But for a band tied so much to so many personal times and places, I’m excited for a new sonic bookmark. 

4/5*

*This score is meaningless. Listen to the album. 



DS Exclusive: Backdrop Falls (ffo: Alkaline Trio) premiere new music video, “My Own Remains”

Who doesn’t love punk rock from the Southern Hemisphere? The Brazilian pop-punk unit, Backdrop Falls, has an unnerving new music video out set to the single, “My Own Remains”. “My Own Remains” appears on their fresh cut album There’s No Such Place as Home, already streaming on major digital platforms, courtesy of Electric Funeral Records based out of South America. Digipaks and cassettes will become available for worldwide release this week through ten – that’s right, TEN – distributors (Count them!). That’s: Electric Funeral Records (Brazil), Geenger Records (Croatia), Duff Records (Italy), 20 Chords Records (Spain), Infected Records (Portugal), Bomber Music (UK), Razor Records (Argentina), Audioslam (Chile), Mevzu Records (Turkey) and Dinamite Records (USA).

The video takes an unsettling look at the claustrophobic and transmorphic daze of early-twentiesdom, where we all bury off our past selves and settle with the ground in our own remains. Stream “My Own Remains” below



UK punk and alternative bands feature on Daniel Johnston covers album

A compilation of UK punk and alternative artists doing covers of American singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston has been released after his recent passing. All proceeds go to the Hi How Are You Project, a non profit foundation that raises awareness of mental health illnesses.

You can check out the covers below.



Inner 29 (pop punk) release new song from upcoming EP

Brazilian pop punk band INNER 29 have signed to Indie Vision Music. Forming in 2018, INNER 29 cite bands like Relient K and Jimmy Eat World as their main influences. They have released ‘Inconsistency (Wears Me Out)’ which will feature on their debut EP ‘Now And Again, Here’ out November 22nd.

Check out the song below.



Makewar release second single ahead of album release

Recent Fat Wreck Chords signing MakeWar have released another song from their upcoming album. Lead vocalist, Jose Prieto, had this to say about new song which is called ‘Sails’:

“Sails is probably the happiest song I’ve ever written. It’s about two people in love. They are both dealing with the daily grind, making ends meet, and dreaming about just quitting it all and escaping on a sailboat. Living life at sea. They deal with their daily grinds in different ways, together. It’s about doing what you love and not what you are supposed to, with a person that you love and supports you no matter what and vice versa. Life is a sailboat, and sometimes you need someone to steer the boat and someone to move the sail. You can do it alone. But it’s way more fun to do it together.”

The album ‘Get It Together’ will be released on November 1st. You can listen to ‘Sails’ and see MakeWar’s upcoming tour dates with Lagwagon and Face To Face below.



The Blue Carpet Band (Rock, London) release new single “Ain’t Got No Damn Rock N’ Roll”

London garage/rock outfit The Blue Carpet Band are to release a new 7″ at the end of the month via Bomber Music. “Ain’t Got No Damn Rock N’ Roll” is a two song single, with pre-orders for the vinyl edition up on their Bandcamp now.

Digital stream links are up now.



DS Exclusive: Postage (ffo: Direct Hit, The Murderburgers) stream new track, “Mail Patterns”

Albany post-rockers Postage have a new EP releasing November 1 on Paper + Plastik Records, the title-of-which is Flexi 2. It’s the follow up to their debut Flexi EP, and if the exclusive single premiere they’ve just granted Dying Scene is any indication, then you can expect the EP to really deliver. Postage is a band that’s sealed and stamped for greatness. They’ve got the full package. Are you getting the message?  I hope so, because I am sincerely out of puns.

Pre-orders for Flexi 2 will go on sale October 7 here. In the meantime, please enjoy the new song “Mail Patterns” below. It’s a song that asks “What’s the point in negativity anyway?” Why should we be so angry with each other when we can all just not give a shit? That’s what fucking Krishna would say, and that’s what I’m kicking to you young warrior scenesters.

P.S. Peep the kitty in the mailbox. 



Mark Lind and the Unloved (Punk ‘N’ Roll, MA) Stream “Who’s To Say” From Forthcoming Album “The Last Bastion”

Mark Lind and the Unloved has a new record coming out. To get you lot in the mood for it, the band has been good enough to release a couple of tracks early. Joining the previously released “An Anthem For The Damned” is the track “Who’s To Say”. 

You can check out the two teaser tracks below whilst you wait for the full release, which is due on November 8. Helping the band with the details will be State Line Records.



Nixon’s The One (Punk, CO) Stream EP “West Of The Sun, East Of The Moon”

Denver-based gritty pop punks Nixon’s The One are allowing fans to stream their entire latest EP, West Of The Sun, East Of The Moon. The record will be officially released on November 11 but you can check the trio’s latest work out below.

The previous release from Nixon’s The One was the Watergate EP in 2015.



Take This To Heart Records Stream “Fall Sampler 2019”

Massachusetts-based emotional punk label Take This To Heart Records has just put out a new compilation of tracks from the artists it has been working with of late. You can expect to hear tracks from the likes of Sarah and the Safe Word, City Mouth, Future Teens, and others.

Check out Take This To Heart’s Fall Sampler 2019 below.



Blindspot (Punk, Australia) Stream “Swipe Right” From Forthcoming Full-Length “Final Allure”

Australia’s Blindspot have just released a second single from a forthcoming album. The track is titled “Swipe Right” and will be the fifth tune on the ten track effort, Final Allure. The album is due out on November 22 and helping the band with the release will be Pee Records.

You can check out “Swipe Right” and the previously-released “All Fall Down” below.



Rarity (Post Hardcore, Canada) Stream Video for Single, “A Numbness”

Ontario’s Rarity have just put out a video for their recently-released single, “A Numbness”. The track appears on the band’s latest record, The Longest Lonesome, out now on New Damage Records.

You can check the video for out “A Numbness” below.



Inconsapevole Records releases “Punk Rock Against War Vol. 2” compilation

Italian label Inconsapevole Records have released the second installment of their “Punk Rock Against War” compilation series. All the proceeds go to Emergency, an independent and neutral international organisation founded in 1994 to provide free, high-quality medical and surgical care to victims of wars, anti-personnel mines and poverty. It promotes a culture of peace, solidarity and respect for human rights.

The compilation has an incredible 111 bands on it, including many you’ll know and love. Check it out below.



The Addisons release new single “Fake It”

Chicago indie-punks The Addisons have released a new single. “Fake It” is available now from the band’s Bandcamp.  The track is the first new music since the band’s 2018 EP Here It Comes Again and is also the first music from them featuring drummer Jesse Carmona (formerly of Rockford,IL emo band God’s Reflex).

Have a listen below.



Part Time Killer release video for “System Is Using You”

Finnish skate-punks Part Time Killer have released a video for recent single “System is Using You”. The song comes off the band’s upcoming album, The Fight. 

Have a watch below.