ALBUM REVIEW: The Menzingers – From Exile

Philly punks The Menzingers once again deliver us a record we need and the world deserves to hear.

When Hello Exile was released last year, it very quickly became not only a fan favorite but received rave reviews all around, and deservedly so. Since then much has happened – the world has been turned on its head, and so has life for musicians and music lovers. Many were quick to hail lockdown as a period that would result in much great songwriting, and whilst we would like to argue that maybe isn’t necessarily the case, we sure are glad Menzingers decided to reimagine their latest record.

Recorded in the band members’ respective homes, attics and basements during lockdown, on From Exile we find a much more mellow side of the punk outfit, maybe one that for some takes getting used to, but if you love Menzingers songwriting, you will no doubt fall head over heels for this one as well. From Exile takes all that angsty punk vibe and transports it to a campfire with all your mates to forget the world for a while.

The tracklist is exactly the same, so you know which song to expect and yet, everything is delightfully different. Kicking things off with socio-political anthem America, it quickly becomes clear what the mood of this record is. The call-to-arms lyrics about the current state of the US turns into a Bob Dylan style folk track, that’s still poignant and somehow the line “With all of my anger I scream and shout, America, I love you but you’re freaking me out.” though less angry, seems just as fitting.

The following Anna, easily one of the best love songs by The Menzingers, really hits you right in the feels in its slowed down, guitar-led melody. And throughout the record the band showcase what’s possible when you’ve worked together for years but can’t be in the same room together to record. The eerie and moody attitude of the record also shows an insight into the band’s state of mind.

The Menzingers were on tour in Australia when the world seemed to abruptly stop due to COVID-19, forcing the band to cut their tour short and make their way back to Philadelphia. “The live music industry vanished before our eyes, and just like that we were out of work like tens of millions of others,” notes singer/guitarists Greg Barnett. “As the weeks progressed the upcoming tours got rescheduled, then rescheduled again, then effectively cancelled. There were times when it all felt fatal. There’s no guide book on how to navigate being a working musician during a global pandemic, so we were left to make it up as we went along. We wanted to document and create in the moment, and though we couldn’t be in the same room together due to social distancing lockdowns, we got creative.”

Over the following months, The Menzingers re-recorded Hello Exile from their separate locations. “We would track the songs from our own home studios, share the files via dropbox, and pray it all made sense when pieced back together. Initially, we planned for the album to be similar to our acoustic demo collection ‘On The Possible Past,’ but we quickly found out that this batch of songs benefited from more detailed arrangements,” adds Barnett. “We rewrote, and changed keys and melodies. We blended analog and digital instruments in ways we never had before. We dug through old lyric notebooks and added additional verses. We got our dear friend Kayleigh Goldsworthy to play violin on two songs. No idea was off limits. Hell, I even convinced the band to let me play harmonica on a song (no small feat!). The recording process ran from mid-March till June, and upon completion we sent it over to our dear friend and close collaborator Will Yip to mix and master.”

Recently released single and one of the first tasters of From Exile, Last To Know features some beautiful strings to wrap around each verse. Barnett’s vocals truly do tug heavy at your heartstrings on this one, so much so that you cannot listen to is quietly in the corner, Last To Know begs to be played out loud, with volume up to full.

Faster tunes like Strain Your Memory show more of a folk-y influence than some other tracks, but the guitar picking and strumming makes you just want to light a fire in your backyard and grab a couple beers and friends. Whereas I Can’t Stop Drinking fuels the mood we have all been in since March, let’s be honest. Its emo vibes are only enforced in the reimagined version.

London Drugs in its original form, was one of those typical Menzingers songs that you easily relate to and that just reminds you of a Menzingers show every time. On From Exile, it’s taken a few steps back in tempo and enegery, and yet we still choke up at the line “On a rainy night in SoHo, the wind was whistling all its charms, I think we overstayed our welcome, they’re giving us the look at the argyle arms.”

None of Hello Exile loses its charm on From Exile, on the contrary, it amplifies the incredible songwriting skills it takes to make punk songs work as stripped back renditions alongside stripped back instrumentals.