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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. 



The Menzingers Release New Album “Hello Exile”

Today’s the day! The Menzingers sixth studio album and fourth Epitaph release Hello Exile is out today on Epitaph, after months of teasers and singles. Scranton, PA’s favorite sons have been steadily on the rise since 2012’s On the Impossible Past, churning out banger after banger on both 2014’s Rented World and 2017’s After the Party. Hello Exile appears to be no exception, though it does mark a further evolution of the Springsteen-esque lyrical content and swelling pop guitars we saw in After the Party.

The Menzingers last premiered the final album single “Strangers Forever” in September. You can watch that below, and or get the whole album in any format here.



Bad Religion discuss new album “Age Of Unreason” in mini documentary

Check out the new ‘Age of Unreason’ mini doc, where Bad Religion discusses the new record ‘Age of Unreason’ and what it’s like to still be proud of the music you’re putting out after 40 years. Check it out along with the band’s current tour dates below.

“Age Of Reason” was released in May via longtime home Epitaph Records.



Social Distortion Announce 40th Anniversary Show

Punk rock legends Social Distortion will celebrate their 40 year career this October 26th in Orange County California at the FivePoint Amphitheatre. The event, which is billed as ‘Sounds From Behind The Orange Curtain’, will feature performances from an eclectic line up, picked by Mike Ness and his bandmates. Appearing will be Joan Jett, The Distillers, The Kills, Frank Turner, Eagles Of Death Metal, The Black Lips, Plague Vender, Bully and Mannequin Pussy.

Tickets can be purchased here.



Obey The Brave release video for “Calme le jeu”

Obey The Brave have released a video for “Calme Le Jeu”, a track from the Canadian band’s new album, Balance, which was released back in July. Have a watch below.

They’ve also announce a new bass player – Benoit Landreville has joined them as a permanent fixture.



Save Face (pop-punk) release video for “Bummer”

Jersey punks Save Face have released a video for their new song “Bummer”. The song comes from the band’s split EP with Graduating Life. The video which is a shot of the band playing the song while an all out party is unleashed around them. All in all, it looks like a pretty great time. You can join in on the pretty great time, Save Face has a tour lined up later on this fall.

Check out the new video and tour dates below.

Save Face last released Folly: On The Rocks back in 2017, the band is currently signed to Epitaph.



Refused and Thrice announce UK/EU tour dates

Swedish hardcore/noise punk icons Refused and California’s Thrice have announced some upcoming UK and Europe co-headlining tour dates.  They will also be joined in the UK by Gouge Away, and in Europe by Petrol Girls.  You can check out all of the dates and locations below.



New video from The Menzingers, “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)”

With a rather timely song, The Menzingers have released a new single from their upcoming album, Hello Exile, which is out October 4th on Epitaph Records. Of the song and video, the band says: “We’re living in a pretty insane time, where all you can think about every single day is ‘What the hell is going on with this country?’” says vocalist Greg Barnett. “But as I was writing that song I realized that it’s kind of always freaked me out, especially coming-of-age during the Iraq War. I love so much about America, but I think you can’t deny that there are some people in power who are absolutely evil.”

Hard to argue with that. You can watch the brand-new video below.



Off With Their Heads streaming new album, “Be Good”

The brand-new album from Minnesota’s Off With Their Heads, Be Good, is currently available on all the major platforms and streaming as well.  A quick note on this album: it’s certain to end up on a lot of people’s best of 2019 lists – it’s that good. Don’t believe me? Check it out below.



DS Photo Gallery: Bad Religion and Dave Hause, Boston, MA

Any week that allows you to take in multiple shows on a headline tour featuring one of the most iconic punk rock bands of a generation is about the best kind of week you could ask for. And so it was last week when yours truly got to take in not one but two shows on Bad Religion‘s tour in support of their seventeenth (!?!?!) studio album, Age Of Unreason, which dropped back in May on Epitaph Records. If you check this site with any regularity, you’ll know that the first of those shows was the Roadblock Festival in East Providence, Rhode Island, an all-day, outdoor festival show that the iconic Bad Religion closed out. And while a great time was had by all that day, at least from a sentimental standpoint, there’s nothing quite like getting to see one of your favorite bands at a club on your own home turf. You see, a sixteen-year-old Jay Stone would attend his first punk rock show over April vacation of his junior year of high school. It was The Gray Race Tour, and it featured Bad Religion headlining with support from Dance Hall Crashers and Unwritten Law, and the local stop took place at Avalon Ballroom on Lansdowne Street in Boston, and while Avalon isn’t there anymore, it’s since been combined with a couple other local clubs and turned into the House Of Blues, and if you couldn’t guess where I’m going already, this particular show took place at House of Blues and so we’ve made a giant punk rock full circle.

Support on this leg of Bad Religion’s US tour came from Dave Hause and the Mermaid. We’ve obviously been big fans of Hause’s solo career over the last however-many years, and have seen him perform truly solo, accompanied by his brother, and fronting full four- and five-piece bands. So it was a bit of an unexpected surprise (that’s redundant, isn’t it?) to catch the band as one of only a couple shows they were playing as a trio, as Hause’s brother/co-writer/guitar hero Tim was on a scheduled vacation – millennials, man. As he has on each run for the last few years, Kevin Conroy joined on drums while Matt Olsson – normally a drummer whom you may have seen play with the likes of Brian Fallon or Frank Iero – assumed bass duties while the trio blazed through an uptempo set that, if you squinted just right, hearkened back to the early days of The Loved Ones. Hell, they even threw a “cover” of “Jane” in for good measure. While he obviously missed having his brother and right-hand-man on stage, Hause looked like he was having fun prowling the stage and filling in the missing sonic pieces.

Bad Religion hit the stage shortly after 9pm (quick aside – I know it’s passe to say because it’s not, like, supporting the local scene or whatever, but I’ll be damned if a doors-at-7, show-at-8, two-band weeknight bill isn’t the absolute bee’s knees) and immediately dove in to “Them And Us” which, of course, appears in its original form on the aforementioned Gray Race, which I’ll pretend forever was a shoutout to the symmetry yours truly pointed out above. This was my first Bad Religion show of the Jamie Miller On Drums era, and while I have long-since planted my flag atop the “the Brooks Wackerman Era Is The Best Bad Religion Era” hill…Miller can flat out play. He served as the proverbial gas pedal as the band powered through the corners of a twenty-seven-song set that featured songs from more than a dozen albums from the band’s legendary catalog. Brian Baker and Mike Dimkich took turns trading lead guitar licks, Jay Bentley bounded around stage providing thunderous basslines and copious oozin-aahs — talk about guys that look like they’re having fun at this stage of their careers — and Greg Graffin was, well, Greg Graffin. He’s one of the most iconic figures in the annals of punk rock history for a reason, pacing the stage as equal parts poet, professor, and punk rock choir leader. Graffin did spill the beans that next year, Bad Religion will mark their 40th anniversary with another lengthy tour and a book chronicling their legendary career, and it started dawning on me that if one were to try to compose a list of American rock acts that have been are as consistent and vital as Bad Religion have been since the dawn of the Ronald Reagan era, that list might include Bruce Springsteen and…um…hang on a sec…

Anyway, head below to check out our photo gallery from the evening!

 



DS Photo Gallery: Roadblock Festival w/Bad Religion, The Menzingers, The Old Firm Casuals and more!

The last weekend in July marked the maiden voyage of a new New England-based punk rock experience. It’s called the Roadblock Festival, and it took place outside at Bold Point Park in East Providence, which serves as Rhode Island’s largest outdoor concert venue and comes complete with views of the Narragansett Bay and the sunset over the state capital. It’s not the best run venue, but my personal feelings about staff communication deficiencies aside, it’s a pretty picturesque place to take in a punk rock show when the weather cooperates. This particular show featured a diverse lineup, food trucks, wrestling, and a late-arriving crowd that allowed show-goers the opportunity to spread out and seek a little shade from the midsummer sun.

For traffic and parking-related reasons, we arrived shortly after our beloved Rebuilder took the stage. They band were playing with a bit of a retooled lineup; with co-frontman Craig Stanton out of town, Sal Ellington and bassist Daniel Carswell were joined by regular drummer Brandon Phillips on guitar and vocals and by Choke Up’s Harley Cox filling in on drums. It was a high-energy, well-received set that was certainly worthy of taking place later in the afternoon. They were followed out of the chute by a back-to-back pair of legendary acts: Cro-Mags and HR from Bad Brains. Technically speaking, the former was “Cro-Mags JM,” the John Joseph/AJ Novello version of the influential NYHC band. HR performed a half-hour set of punk-infused reggae songs with a band that was heavy and airtight in spite of a relative few shows under their collective belts.

Next up came Portland, Maine’s Roseview, a five piece post hardcore band who are, admittedly, not my speed. A band that are my speed, The Old Firm Casuals, came next. Making their first and only New England appearance as a four-piece – lead guitarist Gabe Gavriloff joined in the four-ish years since OFC were last here, the quartet overcame a handful of bizarre, REd Hot Chili Peppers-infused technical difficulties to buzzsaw a way through forty minute set of rock solid street punk rock-and roll. In one of the more interesting musical segues of the day, they were followed by Charly Bliss, the four-piece New York-based band who were wrapping up two successful months of world touring in support of their latest synth-pop-infused release, Young Enough.

The Menzingers played the event’s penultimate set as the sunlit portion of the day’s festivities came to an end. By that point, the bulk of the late-arriving crowd had finally descended upon Bold Point Park, and Philadelphia’s beloved sons were met with a barrage of crowd-surfers and thrown beer cans from the opening tones of their hour-long set. Bad Religion closed out the night in flawless fashion. I’m frequently left in awe that a band that’s been around literally as long as a band as I have as a person (editor’s note: I turn 40 next month) can sound just as vital and important and energetic as ever. This is punk rock, not the Beach Boys or a Grateful Dead cover band (both of whom would occupy this stage in the next week), yet on their recently-released Age Of Unreason full length, and more importantly in their live show, Bad Religion keep showing the rest of us how it’s done.

Head below to check out our full photo gallery.



The Menzingers discuss upcoming album on podcast

Tom May of The Menzingers is the latest guest on UK podcast ‘The Wasting Time Podcast’. With the recent announcement of their new album ‘Hello Exile’ and the release of the single ‘Anna’, Tom goes into detail about what fans can expect from the forthcoming release.

The episode can be heard on all the usual platforms as well as the podcast website. If you haven’t seen the video for new single ‘Anna’ yet, it can be found below.



2000 Trees Festival 2019 – Live Review

Photo: Dom Meason (@DOMMEASON)

A mid-July weekend in the Cotswolds is fast becoming a near-religious experience for thousands of festival-goers. The beautiful Upcote Farm hosts a weekend of chaos known as 2000 Trees Festival (or Trees if you’ve been before), cutting off the real world (in the literal and figurative sense) for punks, indie kids and the hardcore faithful.

Read our full review below.



Obey The Brave release video for “Seeing Red”

Obey The Brave have released an all-new video. “Seeing Red” is the first single off the Canadian band’s new album, Balance, released on July 19th.  You can watch the metalcore band’s latest offering below.



Bad Religion expand fall tour

While the band is already touring in support of their new album, Age of Unreason, Bad Religion have added some additional tour dates to the US leg of the tour. The newly added dates will begin September 17 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and wrap October 6 in San Diego, CA. Tickets are on sale as of August 19th at https://badreligion.com/tour.

The new tour dates can be found below.