Remember 2019? Yeah, that year that seems like a lifetime ago. We used to go to bars, hang out at shows, and feel the visceral gut-punch of live music. Back in those heady days, I was listening to The Menzingers. A lot. They'd released 'Hello Exile' and it's opening track 'America (You're Freaking Me Out)'. Good times indeed.
Here we are less than 12 months on. America continues to freak us out on a daily basis and well, hello fucking exile. Like many of us around the world, Greg Barnett, Tom May, Eric Keen, and Joe Godino have been stuck at home. They’d just finished a run of dates across Europe back in March when circumstance and viral pandemics shut down the scene.
So you’re a punk band, locked down with acoustic instruments, and stuck in an exile no one predicted. What to do? Straight outta Scranton, PA comes ‘From Exile’, an acoustic reworking of last year’s record.
There’s an instant relatability with The Menzingers’ songs. They’re packed with singalong whoah-oahs, big riffs, politics, and pub-poetry. I’ve seen Greg Barnett take the stage armed with only an acoustic guitar, and I’ll be honest, that’s a record I’d buy. This, however, is something else entirely. Each track on ‘From Exile’ has been rebuilt from the ground up, resurrected with a brand new hope and sound from the raging dumpster fire of 2020.
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.
‘America (You’re Freaking Me Out)’
Well, dance devil, dance. Put on your best plaid shirt and swap those Chucks for Cowboy Boots. From the off, this record is unashamedly Americana. The high and lonesome harmonica wails on ‘High School Friend’ could be sampled from Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’. Kayleigh Goldsworthy adds some delicate violin touches on ‘Last To Know’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Drinking’, the former switching things up with a drum machine conjuring echoes of Noah and the Whale’s ‘Heart of Nowhere’ record.
Maybe it’s the unplugging of instruments, maybe it’s staying home drinking cheap red wine, or maybe it’s the passing of time… Something’s changed in the reworkings of ‘Strangers Forever’ and ‘Anna’, two tracks really benefitting from a 2020 re-release, laden with raw emotion and heartfelt vocals.
Billy Bragg has proved you can be punk without plugging in. Long before that, Woody Guthrie was writing anti-establishment anthems with ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’ scrawled on an acoustic guitar. On ‘From Exile’, these Philadelphia-based punks are carrying on a fine tradition.
If this record proves anything, it’s that it is entirely possible to re-do things completely, change everything, and make something just as good, and in some cases, better. If it can be done with a punk rock record, maybe it can be done with a president. If you’re American, go vote for something different. If you’re a music fan, go buy this record, pour a Bourbon, hell make it a double, and sing your heart out from your own little exile.