Scranton, Pennsylvania, locals The Menzingers seem to be defying the laws of tradition. For most musicians, there seems to be a decline in their quality of music as they get older. Bob Dylan, Billy Joel and every member of Van Halen have fallen into this trend, but The Menzingers have followed an upward curve since their first album, “A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology,” released in 2007, which squishes ska-punk and emo together in a nearly nauseating banana and mayo sandwich of sound.
The band’s last album, “After The Party,” released in 2017, is arguably the most catchy and consistent record in the band’s discography. This is primarily because the band adopts an entirely new sound that trades the offbeat strikes of the guitar for long sympathetic guitar harmonies and twangy vocals.
This southern sentiment continues on The Menzingers’ most recent release, “Hello Exile,” released Oct. 4. The album is just as emo as it sounds. On tracks like “Anna” and “Strain Your Memory,” as well as the majority of the rest of the album, any trace of ska has been swept away, leaving a desert full of moody guitar leads blowing through the arid heat of the rhythm guitar’s wandering chords. With a solid number of just-ok country tracks, fairly uninspired vocals and a predictable rhythm section, “Hello Exile” is a solid decline in quality from the band’s last two albums.
One of the few redeemable qualities, however, is the track “America (You’re Freaking Me Out),” a song that serves as a rant about the differences between the millennial generation and the baby boomers. It’s a cliche concept, but the track has a few thought-provoking one-liners.
“Driving through the Bible Belt/Billboards claiming how Jesus felt/Oh, how'd his words confuse themselves?/With cranks for Christians in powerful positions/I've always felt like all their pomp and circumstance is just cover for the devil to dance,” singer Greg Barnett spits. The ‘stick it to the man’ mentality is a very punk concept, which is one of the only reasons “Hello Exile” could be classified as punk at all.
The message in the lyrics may be punk, but the vocal delivery is far from it. The two lead vocalists, Greg Barnett and Tom May, seem like they spent too much time in the rural midwest, as the usual light quiver of both of their voices has turned into a heavy drawl. What’s amazing is that they're both utilizing this technique, making it even harder to tell them apart. Tracks like “Farewell Youth” and the title track, “Hello Exile,” sport an Eddie Vedder-like nasaliness that serves as an unwanted reminder of fifteen years ago, when country-laced Kid Rock-wannabes were wandering the earth unsupervised.
The country vibes are best utilized in the track “I Can’t Stop Drinking,” which has a simple but effective leading riff and proceeding chords that hearken back to older modern country greats like Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins. The style is definitely not The Menzingers’ forte, but the band pulls it off with a fair amount of grace.
“Hello Exile” was a slog of an album to get through, so lord knows how boring it must have been to record. If The Menzingers continue down this path of blandness, it wouldn’t be amiss to assume that the band has already hit its apex with “After The Party” and a decline in quality beyond “Hello Exile” is looking more likely.