I’ve been in the punk and hardcore scene since I was a sophomore in high school. I sold merch for local bands, and all my friends were either in bands or involved in the scene. I’ve seen people come and go, and I’ve made some of my closest friends to date through punk and hardcore. Punk and all its subgenres have shaped my politics and my world view, growing up in a conservative middle-class family, punk saved me from growing up and becoming a Republican. There aren’t many punk bands I’ve been able to grow up with, but that’s the reason The Menzingers holds a special place in my music collection. I was a fan of The Menzingers when I first heard On The Impossible Past during my senior year of high school. They instantly became the soundtrack to that year, and again in 2014 with Rented World, but it wasn’t until 2017 when After The Party came out that I realized this band was making music specifically for people like me. I’m not exactly 30 yet, but I related to every word of that album. I was simultaneously coming to terms with having a new group of friends and being pummeled by a failed relationship. As you could expect, listening to After The Party and watching the music video for the title track felt like one of those moments where art eerily imitated life. Now three years later, The Menzingers are back reminiscing on bygone days and being nostalgic about the former self with their newest album Hello Exile.
Buy and large, Hello Exile continues the sound of After The Party but also offers a newly-adopted sound that blends old guy punk with a beach rock-type sound. When the first couple singles “Anna” and “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” dropped there was some fan backlash and criticism regarding the vocal mix, but after listening to Hello Exile dozens of times since release, I don’t even notice the mixing anymore because it fits so well with the band’s new friendlier sound. While After the Party may have been a gut punch, Hello Exile offers a much more mellow and relaxed feeling, though it’s still not short of any nostalgia that the band has become celebrated for. The album starts with a big political statement, addressing first the state of America, and the monsters that our parents voted for before tackling the idea of Christianity and politics being one and the same, and the idea of not shipwrecking life after your 30s.
Some of that iconic Menzingers nostalgia is seen on “Anna,” which feels like a pre-breakup song set during that awkward phase of knowing the breakup is just around the corner, but when you’re still attempting to savor those memories of when things were easier. We get a glimpse of that with the first verse as Greg Barnett recalls drinking too much cheap red wine and laughing while dancing in the kitchen. Then we see memories of moving in together, and later it’s revealed Anna has been absent for so long that the city of Philadelphia has changed, and all their friends keep asking about her. That emotionalism isn’t just seen in Anna, but also “Strangers Forever,” which was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, Anna Karenina. It presents the idea of a relationship ending and having to see that person again at a show, coffee shop, or just in your peripheral vision and deciding it’s best not to make eye contact and to stay strangers forever. Barnett sings with a bleak emotional outlook “Maybe it's for the better we both stay strangers forever, maybe it's for the best we pretend like we never met, forget everything that we've ever known,” so even in the post-breakup heartache The Menzingers manage to find a reassuring peace. That reassurance is continued in the album’s title track “Hello Exile,” in which we see a summer romance that lasts for just a season, but whose memory lasts for a thousand years. And how, even years later, the singer still thinks of that summer love and it brings a smile to their face.
The album ends in true Menzingers fashion with “Farewell Youth,” which is a little bit of a slow burn, and one of those reasons I love this band so much. I moved from Los Angeles to outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and in my high school, I was the only punk around until I converted some friends into punks and hardcore kids. This song is essentially about exactly that, being one of a few punks in a city and growing up and then growing apart from those friends. The chorus is a call back to former you, with “farewell youth, I’m afraid I hardly got to know you,” and the rest of the song looks at being a punk in a small town, getting high while listening to favorite albums and drinking the cheap stuff. The album ends with a love letter to the days of youth and adventure, days when you tried to fit in by hanging out with the older kids. Days of desperately attempting to escape your hometown, whether that was driving to god-knows-where or just killing empty days in the basement of a friend's house.
Hello Exile is an album for any punk who has found themselves growing up in the scene and asking yourself what’s next now that you’re older. While After the Party was about failing a relationship in your 30's, Hello Exile examines the dissociative nostalgia that comes with your 30's. It's an album dedicated to looking back at the person you were through the years and the continued search for the person you are continually growing into. Anyone who is experiencing a shift in life can find this album as a soundtrack because it covers everything from the American political landscape to remembering those days of summer love, and even getting high while listening to your favorite albums with your high school friends. Hello Exile by The Menzingers will be your soundtrack down memory lane.