The Menzingers - Hello Exile

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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. 


 

Just a 20-something former hardcore kid living in Nashville. Follow @EyeHateHockey (formerly EyeHateBaseball, but after the Dodgers elimination I’m done with baseball until April) on Twitter and Instagram for lukewarm music takes and bad sports opinions. 

 

Jail Socks - It's Not Forever

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My first encounter with Jail Socks was shrouded in mystery. Sometime in December of 2018, I stumbled across a tweet from @thisbandfucks claiming “Jail Socks has RIFFS,” and that was all I needed. 

The video in question showed the band playing the outro of “Freshman Year” at a house show. The room was dimly-lit, the instrumentals were tight, and the crowd was shouting along enthusiastically. All you can really make out in the low-res video are three vague figures flipping their hair and jamming out.

 
 

That one minute clip scratched the insatiable part of my brain that’s constantly-hungry for twinkly emo riffs and ended up sending me on a search for Jail Socks’ music, but I quickly discovered there wasn’t much of it. I found the emo trio on Bandcamp, downloaded everything I could, and then spent the better part of 2019 listening to their four available songs spread across one single and a split

I had already memorized every word of the group’s music by the time No Sleep Records announced they signed the band in February of 2019, and as a budding fan, I had never felt more affirmed. Needless to say, after seeing the band play live multiple times throughout the year and listening to their four songs literally hundreds of times, It's Not Forever has been one of my most-anticipated releases of 2019. Turns out, even with all the hype, expectations, and near unbearable build-up to its release, this collection of songs was absolutely worth the wait.

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Opening track “Jake Haplin” is a re-recorded version of the same song off No Promises, which is so fully-realized here that it retroactively makes that earlier rendition of the song feel like a slightly more whiny demo. Now featuring tighter instrumentation, sharper vocals, and a fully-instrumental outro that leads directly into the following track, it’s incredible how much life the band was able to breathe into a song I’d already listened to hundreds of times. 

The song begins with a pinprick-precise guitar riff courtesy of guitarist and lead singer Aidan Yoh that feels like a rush of caffeine traveling directly to your brain after your first sip of morning coffee. From there, the rest of the band enters the fray, launching into a bouncy emo riff with jagged fist-pump-inspiring beats. After a minute of straight riffage, that energetic excitement boils over and lulls to a subdued hum that makes way for the now-iconic first lines of the song as Yoh shouts.

“I’m only smoking to feel the satisfaction of warm hand
I know I can’t freestyle, but I swear
I’ll come back from this. 
I’ll come back from this.
I swear”

After these tearful promises to return from some unspecified physical or emotional space, the group quickly picks up speed again and returns to the rolling emo riff that kicked off the song. From there, “Jake Haplin” bleeds directly into “Parting Words,” blending that same sparkly guitar line into a newly-energized bout of lyrical optimism placed over Colman O'Brien’s steady drumbeat. “Parting Words” builds to a similar instrumental drop-out midway through, clearing room for Yoh to belt:

“AND THE WAY YOU LEFT ME
HAD ME THINKING
THAT I'D DONE SOMETHING WRONG
OH BUT I'D FORGOTTEN
THAT IT WAS YOU
ALL ALONG”

Yet another line that feels primed for screen-printed art cards, Tumblr quotage, and backyard stick and pokes, these lyrics strike an interesting balance between hyper-specific for their author and general enough that a broader audience can project their own experiences onto them. This relatable lyricism combined with Yoh’s group-chant-esque vocal delivery mold together for an unforgettable and instantly-catchy moment that will grab your attention and stay stuck in your head long after your first listen.

Lead single “Poplar Avenue” is perhaps the most energetic track on the EP, weaving a fast-paced tale of a deteriorating relationship all within a few lines, interspersed with tight instrumentation. Throwing the listener straight into the deep end, the band bursts in with a hard-charging and bassy riff as Yoh expresses drunken statements of regret, exacerbated from spending too long on the road:

I wish I never said those things to you
That at the time I really thought I meant
When I called you drunk from Memphis, Tennessee
I couldn’t comprehend the gravity of things to come”

After Yoh beats themself up for alcohol-assisted faux pas, the track opens up allowing some of the most evocative lyricism on the entire EP to emerge:

“The way you pressed your lips on to my neck
And no I don’t consider you a friend
God knows I still wish you all the best”

As the lead single, I feverishly devoured “Poplar Avenue” the day that it came out, listening probably dozens of times within the space of the first 24 hours. Emotions and excitement were already running high when I first hit play on the track, but the lines above evoked such a visceral reaction from me that I began to wonder if the band had firsthand knowledge of every relationship I’ve ever been in. First I got chills, then I got goosebumps, then my eyes began to well up. It’s the closest an emo fan ever gets to being “shook,” and I was shaken. These lyrics are followed closely by astute observations that can only have been made by someone in a deteriorating relationship.

“Softly spoken in your bedroom
See your phone light on the ceiling
Lets me know that you’re not listening
Why can’t I get through?
You in my arms is all that I need
So why can’t,
Why can’t I,
Why can’t I get through to you?”

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In the back half of the EP, things slow down a touch. “Sunlight” sees drummer Colman O'Brien and bassist Jake Thomas taking center stage with one of the song’s most hard-hitting rhythm sections. Meanwhile, the penultimate “Freshman Year” is yet another re-recording off No Promises, seen here rendered in a more produced, honed, and precious light as Yoh reminiscences on bygone friendships, romances, and late nights of high school.

Possibly the EP’s greatest achievement, six-minute closer “Steering Wheel” is a poignant and carefully-crafted emo track that feels at once hopeless and optimistic. Opening with an acoustic introduction, the full band eventually comes in with a bombastic crash of cymbals and bass before developing a masterful slow build. Over the course of the song’s six minutes, Yoh paints a picture of an existence plagued with nostalgia, regret, and betrayal. 

In what feels like a thesis statement for the entire release, “Steering Wheel” finds Yoh coming to an important realization in the form of the EP’s namesake before the band launches into a meditative instrumental break: 

“You always said that I would run when shit got tough
I hate coward I’ve become
I hate the things I’ve done
But I keep reminding myself when the days are long
It’s not forever” 

It’s here that the EP’s title finally makes sense. Yet another example of lyrics that are (obviously) meaningful to their creators while simultaneously being relatable enough that anyone listening can grasp on and fill with their own meaning. The lines evoke hazy memories of friends who may still live down the street, or you may never see again. It feels like youthful exuberance and hopeful romanticism swirling together. These lines act as a reminder that nothing is forever; friendships, relationships, family, pets, sadness, happiness, memories. It’s the knowledge that all of this is fleeting. Some of it may be good, some of it may be bad, but for better or worse, this will never happen again, and that’s something we often lose sight of. 

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It’s Not Forever is a labor of love. It’s the result of years of touring, basement shows, and honing their craft. This is most directly evidenced by the change from the early versions of songs like “Jake Halpin” to these newer renditions, but it’s also seen in the lyrics sprinkled all throughout the album. This EP is also the result of years of life; years of experiences, feelings, and emotions sometimes long-bottled up, now poured on to canvas for all to see. It’s reflective, cathartic, and deeply-feeling. 

It’s Not Forever is an absolutely fantastic unveiling to the world, and the fact that it’s not even the group’s first full album makes them one of the most exciting and promising acts in modern emo. It’s hard to quantify all of the passion and life that went into this release, and trying to picture all that might happen between now and the band’s next collection of songs makes my head spin, but one thing’s for sure… It’s not forever, and we’re lucky that Jail Socks are here to remind us of that.

No Fun Club Is About To Be Your Favorite Emo Band

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One of the most rewarding parts of fandom is digging through a band’s back catalog and discovering that they have a slew of EP’s, demos, and splits that aren’t on streaming services. Sure, most of the time they lack the production quality and songwriting craft of the band’s later material, but for obsessive superfans, these types of discoveries are as valuable as gold. 

These early recordings offer a glimpse into a band at their most infantile stage. Sometimes you can hear seeds of what they would later become, other times they bear little resemblance to the music you’ve come to know and love. Early recordings also offer the musically-inclined a bit of escapism; it makes the creation of music seem approachable, it humanizes the band members, and it makes you think “hey, I could do this!” which, in my mind, is the sort of inspiration that all good music should instill.

Living in Michigan, I’ve now experienced the reverse of this phenomenon: discovering bands before they’ve released anything substantial into the world. Groups that only have an EP or two out, if that. These bands communicate to their audiences primarily through smaller releases, one-off songs, leaks, weekenders, and house shows. Sure, their music is online somewhere, but it often fails to capture the awe-inspiring mayhem of their live shows. 

These groups are comprised of performers and artists playing their hearts out to devoted crowds of fans, even if their Spotify stats don’t directly reflect their rockstar status. These are the bands who still care about every follow, retweet, and shirt sold. They're the bands poised to achieve a larger-than-local success that will eventually have future fans digging through their back catalog in search of these early musical artifacts.

Seeing these types of bands live offers insight into how their music can live in different situations. Following them long enough, one can combine the publicly-available music with personal experiences at live shows and imagine a bright future of music and growth that will be on display in the band’s next release. No Fun Club is one of the bands that I consider myself lucky to have watched grow in just the handful of months that I’ve been seeing them live. 

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Self-described “slacker rock for neurotic workaholics,” No Fun Club makes hard-hitting “fake emo” that falls somewhere between Charmer and Oso Oso. There’s some guitar tapping, some riffage, and some sentimental lyrics, but it ends up feeling like a unique version of emo-tinged indie rock that’s distinctly their own. The group’s publicly-released music is comprised of one self-titled EP and one Bandcamp-only EP of four lo-fi demos (again, lying in wait for future fans to discover and consume with the benefit of hindsight). 

Clocking in at 18 minutes, No Fun Club’s self-titled EP is a substantive and full release packed with resonant emo rock that captures the hard-to-pin-down feeling of that liminal space between college and adulthood. “Big Mood” is the EP’s slow-building and ironically-named opener. Beginning with a solitary guitar that sounds like it would fit perfectly on a Snail Mail record, frontman Jake Rees enters the song with a statement of weary regret as he sings:

“slipping out shots in the dark
how many times can I miss the mark?”

Soon, that verse is interrupted by a harsh stab of distortion signaling the entrance of the rest of the band who bluster in with a hard-charging riff that might bowl you over if you’re unprepared. After a second verse that’s equal parts hesitant and combative, the track briefly dies down for a fakeout ending that allows the band to pull the rug out from under the listener as they throw back to that lumbering riff one last time.

The band deals explicitly with post-college listlessness on both “Disappointed” and “Joan of Arc,” the former of which bounces back and forth between thrashy emo riffage and fast-paced verses, eventually making way to a shreddy guitar solo. Meanwhile “Joan of Arc” features a pleasantly-upbeat and dreamy instrumental that calls to mind Alvvays as the lyrics wrestle with feelings malaise and loss over a tight drum beat.

Rees’ songwriting shines through the brightest on “Windbreaker,” a punchy crowd churner with a catchy sing-along chorus belted out over a bouncy rhythm section. Easily the EP’s most fast-paced track, the explosive energy and captivating choruses of “Windbreaker” are sure to stay stuck in your head long after your first listen. Essentially the album’s climax, the snappy choruses of “Windbreaker” make way for “Junji Ito,” a borderline-post-rock track that gives the audience a chance to catch their breath before the EP’s grand finale. 

Album closer “McDonough, GA” is another slow-starting track that gradually builds into an emotive explosion of fuzzed-out guitar, crashing cymbals, and screamed vocals before fading out into a mellow jazzy riff.

No Fun Club is a fantastic and honest encapsulation of the ennui that comes with early adulthood. There are moments of bonding, moments of disappointment, moments of anger, and moments of frustration, but most of all, just a feeling of being lost. 

At its most poignant, No Fun Club is more than just an excellent emo-adjacent EP, it represents the first steps of a band emerging on to a larger stage. It’s 18 minutes of inexplicable feelings and unforgettable experiences finally being put to words. It’s both a celebration of and reckoning with life’s imperfect nature. It’s a reminder that as overwhelming as everything may seem, you are not alone. Not only that, No Fun Club is here to let you know that those feelings are more universal than you think.

The Sloppy Boys - Dancing on the Wind

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I’m not one to lament the position of rock music in 2019. I respect the greats, but I’ll never pretend that we’re somehow musically worse off now than we were in the 70s. There’s more than enough of a scene out there if you’re willing to look around, but the problem is it’s easy to watch Bohemian Rhapsody or hear grandiose stories of Mötley Crüe partying and romanticize some long-gone era of now-unachievable Rock with a capital “R.” 

While I’m not one of these “born in the wrong generation” music fans, what I do miss about this bygone era of rock music is the cheese. I’m not just talking about clever lyrics or offstage antics; I’m talking about an unabashedly over-the-top cartoonishly-hedonistic approach to life. 

I’m talking about Led Zeppelin penning love songs framed in Lord of the Rings mythology. I’m talking about AC/DC firing a real-life cannon on stage every night. I’m talking about 30-foot puppets and 10-minute drum solos. I’m talking about Twisted Sister catapulting your teacher through the classroom ceiling because he just didn’t get it, maaan. This sort of outlandish commitment to good times is precisely what The Sloppy Boys offer up on their sophomore album Dancing on the Wind.

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Comprised of multi-hyphenate comedian/writer/musicians Mike Hanford, Jefferson Dutton, and Tim Kalpakis, The Sloppy Boys are a “party rock” band hailing from Los Angeles, California. While the three had previously worked together on the cult IFC sketch show The Birthday Boys, it wasn’t until 2018’s Lifelong Vacation that the trio unveiled themselves to the world as the musical force that is The Sloppy Boys. 

With song titles like “Let’s Party,” “Here for the Beer,” and “We Came Here To Rock,” the group has had a clear aim from the very beginning: extol the virtues of partying. While their newest record doesn’t stray far from the path set by their first album, that’s because The Sloppy Boys have already mastered the art of translating good times into song form. 

Opening track “Santa Ana Winds” sees the band depicting their various east coast living situations before explaining how an overpowering wind always seems to bring them back to LA. After a couple of choruses, a Beach Boys namedrop, and a shared dream of avocados (you know, standard California staples) the song takes an immediate left turn as Kalpakis describes a fateful encounter between a Dyson Airblade his manhood. From there, the group suddenly shifts into an upbeat pop-punky ode to California that would make even the Red Hot Chili Peppers blush. It’s an overwhelming barrage of Cali-flavored adoration, but this track also acts as a perfect introduction to the band’s style of humor, setting the tone for the remainder of the record. 

Lifeguard Life” covers the group’s well-trodden “party” territory, this time depicting a lifeguard who prioritizes tanning, drinking, and double-fisting cheeseburgers over his actual job. This is all told in the style of a slightly-more-punk-rock Jimmy Buffet with a hint of the “Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” thrown in for good measure. However, partying isn’t the only thing the band cares about as seen on “I’m Taken,” a horn-infused Springsteen-esque tune about staying true to your marriage in spite of how unspeakably-attractive the opposite sex finds you. Similarly, “Tonight” subverts expectations as a sexy slow jam about the most fulfilling thing a couple can do once the lights are off... getting a good night’s sleep. 

Aside from their commitment to the “bit” (read: lifestyle) of partying, one of the most admirable aspects of Dancing on the Wind is that it’s comedy rock that works. Comedic music is hard; too much humor and it loses the replayability of a standard album, too much musicality and it becomes a normal album that’s trying way too hard to be funny. While it’s easy for bands to fall into the trap of leaning too far in either direction and landing in a less-than-fulfilling middle ground, The Sloppy Boys manage to walk that fine line between genuinely funny and ‘actually good’ comedy music. 

Other highlights include “Bonnaroo,” “The Bands,” and “I’m So Punk Rock” which I won’t spoil here, but all contain hilarious observations, deliveries, and rug-pulls that are guaranteed to catch you off-guard and make you laugh.

Album closer “Classic New York Night” is an 8-minute Meatloaf-level epic that compresses every possible New York stereotype (and even a Disney World trip) into the span of a single night. Mixing up every piece of New York pop-culture into one zany pastiche, the group goes from pounding beers in the Empire State Building and watching the Globetrotters play the Yankees to getting into a St. Paddy’s Day fight. It’s a raucous and relentlessly-funny eight-minutes that feels like a perfect note to send the listeners off on. 

Dancing on the Wind is a joyous and personable listen, often feeling less like an album and more like you’re listening in on a group of friends making music in their living room to entertain each other. It’s clever, cutting, and most importantly, manages to strike that rare balance between “comedy” and “rock” without falling too far in one direction or the other, which elevates it over both in the end.

Ship & Sail - Hymnal

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What comes after death?

That’s a question we may never know the answer to. What we do know, however, is what comes after death for those still alive. The ripples of sadness, loss, and confusion that come with the passing of a loved one are exactly what Colin Haggerty captured on his harrowing 2018 LP From Seeds. Now, less than one year from the release of his debut album, he’s given us Hymnal, a nineteen-minute EP depicting life after loss.

Throughout Hymnal Haggerty finds himself reflecting on the passing of his mother, coping with such a seismic change, and grappling with what it means to move on… if that’s even possible. Death isn’t something you ever truly “move on” from. First you fight it, then you deny it, then you try to reason with it, but death is final. It’s something you have to learn to accept because you’re given no choice. Even when someone’s presence looms constant in your mind, heavy on your soul, and fragments of them remain in your day-to-day life, part of living is learning to continue on with your own existence after such a life-altering shift. 

Music is a vital art form for many reasons, but its transformational ability is second to none. Listening to a song can take you back to the first time you heard it. It can transport you to another life or another world entirely. It can make the sad feelings sadder, or it can turn them on their head. Music can shift your perspective or lead you to new ideas, lifestyles, and communities. Perhaps most importantly, music helps us relate to others, comprehend the world around us, and even recover from personal traumas. 

In these extreme cases, music can help both its creators and listeners cope with emotions too raw for words. Much like Sufjan Stevens reckoned with loss on Carrie & Lowell and Phil Elverum wrestled with grief on A Crow Looked at Me, on this EP Haggerty offers a glimpse at the first steps that come after a loss. 

While From Seeds opens with imagery of hospital beds and oxygen tanks, Hymnal begins with absolute adoration as Haggerty sings “You hum like a Christmas light / When you crawl into bed at night” over a loving guitar and steady drumline on “Get Clean.” Throughout the opener, flashes of color and light emerge in the form of keys courtesy of Whitaker Fineberg (Fallow Land), cello by Noah Wright (Idiobliss), and additional vocals by Hayley McNichol (Bombastic Dream Pussy). Contributions like these throughout Hymnal make the EP feel like a very communal and therapeutic release. 

Most of From Seeds saw Colin playing the songs alone with an acoustic guitar, meanwhile Hymnal is a lush release that swaps out that stark darkness with vibrant explosions of life that still retain Haggerty’s poetic lyricism and measured delivery. Tracks like “One Year Ago” and “Sinner” allow the stories of Ship & Sail to unfold through simple vignettes that are relatable yet laced with deeper meaning.

Placed lovingly in the middle of the tracklist, “Blood Moon” is the EP’s beautifully-crafted centerpiece. Beginning with a solitary acoustic guitar, Haggerty sings “Blood moon over the heads of the meek / We’ll inherit the earth, but we’ll be fast asleep” in a voice that sounds equal parts wounded and resolute. Eventually the song builds and crests with gorgeous swirls of acoustic guitar, cello, and ethereal background vocals, all of which blend together into a singular point of emotional impact.

Hymnal is a vulnerable and precious collection of songs. While Ship & Sail’s prior release reckoned the fragility of life, this new collection of songs celebrate the beauty and love that comes with something so easily lost. It’s a record of acceptance and solemn optimism. It recognizes that life will never be the same, but that was always the case.

You can purchase Hymnal here or stream it on Spotify, SoundCloud, or Apple Music.