The Menzingers Hello Exile

The Menzingers Hello Exile
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In one of the more profound moments in sitcom history, fictional Andy Bernard says, in the finale of The Office, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them."
 
This is basically what it feels like to listen to the Menzingers, and as the members of the Pennsylvania punk band age beyond 30, they're as strong as ever at capturing, as they put it themselves, that "fleeting passage of time."
 
Hello Exile is another solid, rousing effort from a band that's already had several of those. The Menzingers have not meddled with their formula, don't need to do so and probably never should. For a passive listener, that consistency could come off as homogeneity — but fans of the Menzingers are not passive. These are 12 more songs to sing in a rapturous yell, and standouts like "America (You're Freaking Me Out)" and "Anna" are bound to elicit exactly that.
 
Here, the Menzingers are ever more even-keeled, more reflective, more wizened. Hello Exile is not a riotous, energetic punk album, but they can still crank it up, especially when the songwriting and storytelling demand it. Lost is some of the explosiveness — it can be a little too tight — and so the highs aren't quite as high as their previous effort After the Party or their 2012 fan favourite On the Impossible Past.
 
But with each album they add more to their story, and the underlying emotional connection to the band and their songs is what grows in intensity. They sing about reconnecting with an old friend and hoping that newer friendships don't end up the same way. They confront the memory of someone who's better off as a memory ("Strangers Forever"), the acknowledgment that there's a side of yourself you've lost ("Portland"), and the thought that what you've got doesn't feel like enough ("Strain Your Memory").
 
Hello Exile takes inventory of life, friendships, relationships, and how much can change in what feels like the blink of an eye. (Coincidentally, the 46-minute album itself goes by surprisingly quickly.) Indeed, it's a hard feeling to miss something you can never get back, made even worse when it's something you didn't appreciate while it was right there in front of you. "Farewell youth, I'm afraid I hardly got to know you," they sing in the album's excellent closing chapter, as a friend's funeral provokes an especially poignant reflection on time gone by and a yearning to be young again.
 
That feeling never really goes away, and it's one of the reasons that Hello Exile may live in your head long after the record has stopped spinning. (Epitaph)