Artists have responded to lockdown in many ways. After their Australian tour stopped abruptly in March The Menzingers turned their creative juices to existing work. Stuck at home the band wanted to document how working musicians can cope and create with enforced isolation. By rewriting, changing keys, melodies and instrumentation the Scranton PA punk rockers turned last year’s fast and furious rocking ‘Hello Exile’ into the acoustic, reflective and absorbing Americana of this year’s very impressive ‘From Exile’.
The stripped back acoustic layers of ‘From Exile’ add depth to a central theme of its predecessor, growing older. Whether applied to politics, relationships or booze The Menzingers look back at their youthful excesses not purely with sadness but a recognition that at this crossroad life does not just stop, it just goes in a new direction. From their various home studios the band swapped recordings before producer Will Yip pulled everything together.
‘America’ opens with a brisk acoustic strum to replace cascading amplification as youthful outrage becomes folky protest. But the restless urgency remains, “oh, how do I steer my early 30’s / before I shipwreck before I’m 40 /oh, ain’t it a shame what we choose to ignore /what kind of monsters did our parents vote for”. Similarly the jangly pace of ‘Anna’ slows to brood over once united lives that are growing apart, “it’s like our studio apartment is just a place to keep your stuff / and when you’re away, I walk around in a haze / reminiscing the days, first moving in with you”.
Inspired by Chekhov the title track in acoustic form intensifies the claustrophobia of living in a small resort town that empties after summer to become a retirement home. ‘I Can’t Stop Drinking’ returns to life moving on when “the cards and flowers don’t work I sleep on the couch when I’m a jerk”. The acoustic revamp throbs no less than its electric original.
Though strange at first this new sound grows on you. What could have been a risky exercise is a big success. Without compromising the candour of their writing these indie rockers can age gracefully.