ARTIST: THE MENZINGERS

TITLE: HELLO EXILE

LABEL: EPITAPH

RATING: 8/10

WORDS: MATTHEW WILSON

How do you follow up an instant classic? ‘After The Party’, The Menzinger’s 2017 record, was a defining moment for the Pittsburgh band, perfectly encapsulating the twin anxieties of growing up and out of your twenties alongside trying to navigate the rapidly shifting tectonics of the momentous post 2016 American landscape. Already scoring a classic album once in their career with ‘On The Impossible Past’, The Menzingers repeated this feat on ‘After The Party’, creating a record that was anxious, urgent and immediate, an emotional rollercoaster married to melodies that instantly wormed their ways into the listener’s ears.

Two years on, and things had seemingly settled for The Menzingers, but the core question at the heart of ‘After The Party’ – where do you go when your twenties are over? – remained unanswered until now. ‘Hello Exile’ is The Menzingers attempt at answering that question. Instead of trying to one up ‘After The Party’’s anxious intensity, ‘Hello Exile’ finds the band settling into a mid-tempo contemplative groove, a clutch of songs written to soundtrack long lonesome drives through barren midwest plains and all of the introspection that comes along with it.

‘Hello Exile’ finds the band settling into a mid-tempo contemplative groove, a clutch of songs written to soundtrack long lonesome drives through barren midwest plains and all of the introspection that comes along with it

Populated with ghost towns, distant cities, Christian cranks and high school friends, ‘Hello Exile’ throws the gaze of The Menzingers further than ever before away from their beloved Philadelphia hometown out onto the wider world. In describing a divided America, full of cities with “new penthouses next to tents in the streets”, The Menzingers cast themselves as exiles in this new world, exiled from Philadelphia, exiled from their past and the people around them. And this sense of exile isn’t just to do with not understanding the new American political geography. ‘Anna’, ‘Portland’ and the title track are all lonesome love songs for partners separated by distance, whether physical, emotional or temporal.

In terms of their back catalogue, ‘Hello Exile’ shares their fourth record ‘Rented World’’s introspection and sense of wandering alienation, but it also shares its most unfortunate weakness – it’s having to follow a career highlight for a band that’s delivered two of the most important punk rock records of the decade. Whilst there’s no bad songs, and the record tells a cohesive story, ‘Hello Exile’ doesn’t have the same immediacy as the album that preceded it. In a way, to create a more introspective record was the only move The Menzingers could have made, but it feels like something is missing from the experience.

If ‘After The Party’ was the urgency of early morning anxiety as you began to sweat out the hangover of your 20s, then ‘Hello Exile’ is the greasy spoon diner you reconvene at the day after

But maybe that’s to be expected. If ‘After The Party’ was the urgency of early morning anxiety as you began to sweat out the hangover of your 20s, then ‘Hello Exile’ is the greasy spoon diner you reconvene at the day after, reassuring each other that things are going to be OK. Caught up in between mourning lost lovers, navigating a hostile and aggressive American landscape and losing that sense of belonging, the heart of ‘Hello Exile’ is found in the moments where old friends reappear, or where a chance encounter scars itself into memory, and ultimately, the wake that closes the record on ‘Farewell Youth’.

Painting a Springsteen-esque picture of an America spiralling out of control, with burnt out tenement buildings scarring the skylines of decaying cities, ‘Hello Exile’ might not capture the burning intensity of The Menzinger’s previous offerings, but finds the romantic punk rockers gracefuly coming of age in an world turning slowly absurd.

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