We’ve been having a horrible time… in 2020. COVID-19 has forced us to keep our distance from one another and has caused unimaginable pain to millions around the world. Millions are out of work. Bands can’t play concerts and tour around the world like they usually do, forcing them to find new ways to get in front of their fans. The Menzingers came into 2020 with plans to tour their new album, Hello Exile, which was released last October. Instead, they canceled all future tour dates when everything shut down in March.
The Menzingers decided to flex their creative muscles and make the most of their time away from each other in quarantine. Between mid-March and June, the band re-recorded Hello Exile while they were all in different locations. Their goal was to create something like the acoustic demos that appeared on the excellent On The Possible Past, but instead they decided to add to the depths of the songs and not just strip them back.
The Menzingers are known for their excellent song writing. However, if you don’t listen close enough, it’s easy to get lost in the guitars and rhythms of their songs. By slowing down the songs, the lyrics get to stand out more, as do the vocals of singers/guitarists Greg Barnett and Tom May.
“America (You’re Freaking Out)” is an acoustic track with an americana feel, light drumming and even some harmonica. While the original is a rock song that sounds like a warning to the country, this version sounds like it was performed in the aftermath of the country crumbling. “Anna” is easily one of the best tracks on Hello Exile , so it should be no surprise that it remains one of the best here. It’s a gorgeous, gentle version of the song that leaves you feeling warm and that everything in this world is ok, even if it’s just for three minutes and 17 seconds. Barnett, who is known for the occasional shrill yell on tracks, yet again shows off his range of being able to successfully pull off heavy and soft vocals. “High School Friend” feels like what would happen if you mashed up Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” with Chuck Ragan’s music. The guitar is dialed way back on this one, but Barnett gets to play harmonica in place of the main riff.
The band also had some help on From Exile from Kayleigh Goldsworthy, who played violin on “Last to Know” and “I Can’t Stop Drinking.” She absolutely blew the doors down on “Last to Know,” where her strings took the place of the crooning guitar riff that originally appeared on the song on Hello Exile. The violin adds so much beauty to the track and when you combine that with a drum machine-like beat and May’s vocals, it makes the song feel lighter than the original. She also has an epic solo on “I Can’t Stop Drinking.”
“Strangers Forever” has a dreamy Oasis feel to it, with Barnett’s vocals echoing in the background under acoustic guitars, Erik Keen’s bass and the easy drumming from Joe Godin. “Hello Exile” is a song I’ve been thinking about a lot since quarantine started and this new unplugged version perfectly fits the moment. There’s even some different lyric changes, which is what they previously did on On The Possible Past. “Strain Your Memory” makes you want to grab your partner and start dancing, which really drives home the idea of getting back to the times “when trouble wasn’t always on our minds.”
One of their biggest accomplishments on the record was what they were able to do with “London Drugs.” This was a song that never stood out to me on Hello Exile, and I would often skip over it to get to “Farewell Youth.” But with this version, there’s no way I’m hitting next. The song bops along thanks to Godin’s drums and some subtle organ. Speaking of “Farewell Youth,” this song is even more heartbreaking in this format. It perfectly sets the mood for the scene the lyrics are laying out, where Barnett is saying goodbye to his youth after attending a wake for a friend he grew up with.
When Hello Exile came out last October, it earned a spot in fall album rotations. You can now make this a double feature, with how nicely From Exile compliments the original record. All in all, the Menzingers succeeded, making the best of this dumpster fire of a year.