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CD of The Week

Week of 10/14/19

    The Menzingers - Hello Exile (Epitaph)

    Maturity isn't a word that comes to mind when thinking of aging punk bands, but Philly favorites The Menzingers show just how far they've come in their latest release, Hello Exile.

    In past releases the band has taken us through emotional journeys. Nostalgia has been a long-running theme in their storytelling, and on Hello Exile, songwriters Greg Barnett and Tom May aren't afraid to tackle other topics - existentialism, depression, and addiction, just to name a few.

    Recent years have seen a resurgence of political songs from various artists. Exile opens with one such song with a fairly direct punch, "America (You're Freaking Me Out)." Musically the song is reminiscent of past Menzingers releases. Playing off After the Party's opener "Tellin' Lies," "America" shows Barnett is curious what the next stage of his life will bring. "How do I steer my early 30s? Before I shipwreck, before I'm 40," he sings, before quickly asking, "What kind of monsters did our parents vote for?"

    "America" is quickly and appropriately followed by "Anna," a depressing tale of lovers becoming estranged. "I always rewind the the home movies in my mind back to the times, first moving in with you." The titular character has gotten a promotion at work and travels, causing a rift in the relationship. Barnett pleads for Anna to come back to Philadelphia as their friends seem to prefer her company over his.

    The idea of separation and alienation are woven throughout the album. In "Strangers Forever" we hear Barnett sing about never crossing paths again and forgetting having ever met. "But if I come into your periphery, please just act like you don't see me," he continues. "Strain Your Memory" tells the story of a couple falling on bad times, trying to find ways to stay together. It's also a song that deals with insecurities in a relationship, as the narrator seems to think hotel maids are judging him behind his back with question like, "When ya gonna leave? Where ya gonna go? Will you get your shit together?"

    Addiction comes into play with standout track "I Can't Stop Drinking," which sees a slower tempo than most other Menzingers songs. It's self-referential in a way, mentioning what happens when the party's over, and also bringing Anna back from her own song. We're treated to a harsh reality of what happens when substance abuse and addiction begin to wear down a relationship. "London Drugs" also tells the tale of addiction brought on by outside influences, also admitting, "If I don't change now I never will."

    The album closes with "Farewell Youth," a story about returning home "for a difficult occasion." Friends become acquaintances, who rely on alcohol to get past awkward small talk. In the end, it's revealed that someone from his youth has passed away and the self-reflection that comes in the aftermath.

    Musically the album offers a more rounded performance than previous Menzingers records. Crunchy guitars open the album, as it progresses into a bluesy, Americana-inspired album.

    Hello Exile is an important step in The Menzingers' story. As their 20s ended with a party, they've started their 30s with maturity in the face of adversity.

    The Menzingers play a hometown show at Franklin Music Hall on November 29th.

    Review by Dan Baker

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