The Menzingers – Hello Exile

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  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

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    The last time we heard from The Menzingers, they were fretting over getting older. “Where we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” frontman Greg Barnett asked repeatedly on “Tellin’ Lies,” the opening track from 2017’s After the Party. If that album had ended with its title track, Barnett would have had his answer (and the band could have feasibly had their happy ending). “After the party, it’s me and you.” The record proved to be a growing-up narrative that culminated in a love story—or so it seemed. But the last song on that record was actually “Livin’ Ain’t Easy,” where life was likened to a continental breakfast where they’re always out of coffee.

    Hello Exile is essentially that line blown up into a widescreen, cinematic experience. The party is way past over, and so are your twenties. This time, youth and young adulthood have been replaced by the next chapter, and it’s one where things don’t seem quite as black and white as they used to. “How do I steer my early 30s?/Before I shipwreck, before I’m 40?/ Ain’t it a shame what we choose to ignore/What kind of monsters did our parents vote for?” Those are some of the first lines that Barnett sings on “America (You’re Freaking Me Out),” Hello Exile’s disillusioned opening track. A lot of this record is about trying to pretend that you’re younger than you are, or trying to get back to those golden days of youth—back when you had no cares or responsibilities. Right off the bat, though, “America” tips the record’s hand, because how can you get back to that place of innocence when the whole nation seems to be going to hell? Later, on the terrific “Strain Your Mind,” Barnett pines after a girl with a simple proposition: “Can you strain your memory back to the times/When trouble wasn’t always on our minds?” It’s a nice thought, but it’s not always that easy.

    There’s no way back to the used-to-bes, and this record seems to know it. The Menzingers have always been a nostalgic band. They are, to paraphrase the title of their most beloved album, a band preoccupied with the impossible past. But Hello Exile twists those nostalgic tendencies in new ways. In “High School Friend,” Barnett and an old buddy wax poetic about the past and about “raising hell in Wayne County/With a copper on our tail.” “I was getting fucked up with a high school friend/Wondering where all the good times went,” goes the chorus. On a cursory listen, the song seems to be a simple wistful look back. It’s like every beer you’ve ever had with a friend you haven’t seen in five or ten years: dominated by conversations about “that one time” or “that crazy night.” But listen closer and “High School Friend” turns into an indictment of the unreliable narratives we tell ourselves about our own memories. “There’s former you, there’s former me/We’re telling tales of revisionist history,” Barnett sings, before adding a frank aside: “I remember the days we couldn’t hardly wait to end.” Nostalgia is often a view tinted by rose-colored glasses. We remember the good times and forget the bad ones: the boredom, the mundanity, the high school angst, the tragedy. “High School Friend” seem to beg the question: if you really could go back, how disappointed would you be about things being the way they actually were, rather than the way you remember them.

    So much of Hello Exile follows a similar push and pull: between longing to reclaim the past and dissembling the dishonesty of our own perhaps-overly-fond recollections about that past. The songs speak to all the things that time can do, how years can sweep through like a hurricane breeze and change us into different people. They speak to how lovers can become strangers, or to how a city can feel like a different place when the person you used to share it with is gone. They speak to how two people can change so much that they no longer fit together. They speak to summer flings and summertime escapes, and to how distant they can seem when you’re an adult with responsibilities and a whole lot of regrets. They speak to the way that wild drunken nights can shift from the lighthearted good times they are in college to something darker and more desperate as you creep toward middle age.

    And of course, these songs speak to mortality. Sometimes, when you’re young, it’s hard not to feel invincible. There are so many paths, so many possibilities, so many minutes and hours and days and years to fill up with whatever you can dream. The moment youth ends might be the moment when you realize that nobody is bulletproof. Hello Exile’s closing track is fittingly titled “Farewell Youth,” and it begins with Barnett driving back to his hometown for “a difficult occasion”: the funeral of a childhood friend. It’s maybe the saddest song The Menzingers have ever recorded. When Barnett sings the words, it sounds like he might be fighting through a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes. “The grief starts when bumping into friends turned acquaintances/We stumble around the small talk/We break the silence with Jameson/But once we were inseparable/We were the only punks in town/We spent every weekend raisin’ hell in the basement of your parents’ house.” Later, he reminisces about hanging out at someone’s apartment, listening to records, and getting underage drunk on cheap beer and liquor. “We couldn’t get enough of growing up,” he recalls. But now that chapter is over, encapsulated in the symbols of a casket and a very still body. “I saw my childhood flash before me in the death of your closed eyes/At your Irish wake we celebrate by trying not to cry.”

    “Farewell youth, I’m afraid I hardly got to know you.” That’s the chorus punchline that The Menzingers leave us with as Hello Exile fades to black. It’s a punch to the gut, because it captures what everyone says about youth: that it’s wasted on the young, that we foolishly spend so much of it trying to grow up faster than we should, and that we’ll inevitably miss it when it’s gone. A cynical listener could frame all of this as a retread, because After the Party already tackled so much of this subject matter in very resonant fashion. But After the Party was the growing up record, and Hello Exile is the grown-up record, and there’s a notable difference between those things. There was a bright punk thrash to After the Party that’s replaced here with creeping darkness and yearning Americana. The songs are quieter, slower, more subdued. The cavernous production and reverb-heavy vocals evoke both the wide-open spaces of the American road and the big unknowable expanse that is adulthood. Maybe one day The Menzingers will make an album about finding their way in that expanse. For now, they’re stumbling around in it, trying to make sense of the confusion and wondering what the hell happened to the more linear path of youth. There’s something deeply comforting about being there beside them, not having all of the answers—and maybe having none of them—but finding the resolve to carry on regardless.

  2. AWasteOfATime


  3. KyleK

    Let's get these people moving faster! Supporter

    I find myself reflecting on the concepts of nostalgia and revisionist history a lot; it affects politics, relationships, friendships, industry, etc. On my first listen to the album I didn't pay close enough attention to truly grasp the themes, but I love this review and how you articulated the push and pull between those ideas, and look forward to listening to it again more closely.
  4. fredwordsmith

    Regular Supporter

    These guys are just a bit younger than me, singing about shit happening in my life and it hits like a ton of fucking bricks. "Farewell Youth" is such a great song about feeling like you lost something you never took advantage of.

    Live in the now, kids. And listen to the Menzingers while you do it.
  5. artbynickferran

    Work Hard. Be Nice.

    I'll admit I've only listened to this album 4 or 5 times so far, but I'm really bothered by the production on this one. The lyrics and the storytelling are super important to me when it comes to The Menzingers, but I can hardly tell what Greg and Tom are saying half the time. I'm nowhere near an audio expert, but their vocals just seem so buried and muddy to me.

    I'm hoping that I'll be able to dig in and make out the lyrics more with repeated listens. But finishing this album and then throwing on After the Party, I really miss the punch and clarity that album had.
  6. heymynameisjoe

    when the days have no numbers Prestigious

    great read, craig. i really dig your reviews.
  7. fredwordsmith

    Regular Supporter

    Will Yip kills lyricists. Goddamn he had to do it to this band and this record. Sound like they were recorded in a cardboard box.
    AVanMill17 and artbynickferran like this.
  8. KidLightning

    Not that kind of lawyer. Supporter

    Great review, @Craig Manning!

    I've said this elsewhere, but personally I love the production on this and don't really have any trouble hearing the lyrics/vocals here. Unlike many records, I think it sounds better played on speakers rather than headphones.

    I also have been thinking about this as a companion record to / the other side of the coin of After the Party. And I think in that context it's even better than as a standalone work.
  9. Chcurry182


    Can’t get enough of this record
  10. Former Planets

    Aaaachem! Supporter

    100%. I listened to it on my flat monitors and it sounds killer. In my Bluetooth headphones, it sounds like a different record.
    KidLightning likes this.
  11. Former Planets

    Aaaachem! Supporter

    "Portland" is definitely my favorite Tom song since OTIP.
    Ryhaan likes this.
  12. ctschwink

    Schwink Supporter

    Great review @Craig Manning. This record is amazing. I absolutely cannot believe all the whining about the production. And I was thinking the same thing @KidLightning, it feels like a companion record to After The Party. Really tying together the story they've been telling. Not my album of the year, but definitely top three, probably No. 2.
    KidLightning likes this.
  13. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Thanks for the kind words all!
    ctschwink likes this.
  14. scottlechowicz

    Trusted Supporter

    The review is successful at making what I believe to be the most persuasive affirmative argument for the album. Well done.
  15. KyleK

    Let's get these people moving faster! Supporter

    As for the vocal production debate, I didn't really notice it the first time listening to it. But now that it's been pointed out, I do feel it sounds like they're singing from the back of the room, or maybe down in one of those sauna cold plunge holes weird houses from the 60-70s sometimes have.
  16. grimis16

    Regular Supporter

    Great review Craig. You wrote many things I was thinking about while listening to this album, but many that I was unable to put to words. I love this line:

    "A cynical listener could frame all of this as a retread, because After the Party already tackled so much of this subject matter in very resonant fashion. But After the Party was the growing up record, and Hello Exile is the grown-up record, and there’s a notable difference between those things."

    I'm in my mid 30s so I feel like both albums have perfectly fit with my life, just like how old pop punk fit my teenage and early 20s.

    Overall I think it's another great album. Downsides are I feel like it's a top heavy album with the best songs in the beginning and two that I think are merely passable (Strawberry Mansion and London Drugs).
    Arthur Dantas likes this.
  17. IbanezRX


    I have the same problem with this record. I like reading the lyrics along with songs for pleasure, not necessity. I really feel that the amount of pure drenching on the vocals really takes something away from this record for me.
  18. Staypositive83


    Really great review. Helped give context to some lyrics I can’t make out. Still need to sit and listen with lyrics a few times.
    Chase Tremaine likes this.
  19. Arthur Dantas

    who cares Supporter

    Awesome review, caught my eye to cool things i wasn't really paying attention.
    Loving even more the lyrics on this record.
    Chase Tremaine and Craig Manning like this.
  20. theasteriskera


    I waited to read this review after 4 or 5 times through the album, and this is spot on. Thanks again!!
    Chase Tremaine and Craig Manning like this.
  21. Great review for a great album!
  22. Helloelloallo


    I'm a little underwhelmed by this album as it feel it suffers from a lack of variety, especially with the drums. The 'pattern' used on America is used again in several other songs and it makes them all blend together a bit too much. I think I need more time with it to distinguish them and fully determine how I feel.
  23. Sherlock Mahomes

    Newbie Supporter

    "The Last to Know" is currently my favorite song on the record. 1a would be "Farewell Youth". Agree with the Will Yip production sentiment, but have to respect the bands choices.
  24. Sean Kilkenny Oct 9, 2019
    (Last edited: Oct 9, 2019)
    Sean Kilkenny


    I get some real Surfer Blood vibes especially on Last to Know. I love this album as just a great one to play start to finish and the concept makes so much sense after all the singles and hearing as a full album. Really been digging it on my ThinkSound2 Cans as far as all the production comments, sounds great!

    Great review Craig, hit the nail on the head

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