The first week of October is a very special time of year for guys like me. Our flannel button-ups shed their dust and see the light of day once more, kegs of the dark beers we yearned for through the hard seltzer summer are finally being tapped, and we all get real fucking stoked to bust out our crockpot soup recipes. Most significantly, though, the ol’ seasonal depression rears its ugly head: that’s right, baby, it’s sad boy season!
Sad boys (or bois, as some would spell it) come in a few different varieties; some make abstract paintings about a breakup they had back in 2008, some are farmers’ market picklers, and some are far too excited about the new Joker movie. Really though, I can only speak on the experience of my own denim-clad brand: the punk rock sad boy. Obviously, music plays a big part in this culture, and as I spent this past weekend taking so many depression naps that it could scientifically be considered a brief hibernation, I sought out the perfect soundtrack to sulk along to. Luckily for me, it was a great week for my hyper-specific music taste, from the new Bayside album, the Red Scare 15 year compilation, and beyond. However, one new release from an old stand-by of my Spotify rotation stood out.
The Menzingers have been a staple of my sad-sack playlists since my first year of community college, a time when I was repressing my high school ska phase and my depression was first starting to bloom. Their newest release, Hello Exile, proved to be exactly what I expected of them which, in their case, is a good thing.
The album opens up with two of three tracks that were released prior to the rest of the album to build up some hype. First up is a song that I pretty much expect from any punk rock album coming out right now; a statement on the current political climate. I tend to go into these songs with some reserve ever since I got burned by Frank Turner’s well-intentioned dud of an album, “Be More Kind” (with the exception of “1933”, the only song I liked on that album. The rest of it was one of the biggest let-downs I’ve ever experienced from an artist I’m a fan of. C’mon, Frank. Get your fucking head in the game).
All reservations aside, “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” does a solid job opening up the album. The driving rhythm and riffs get the energy going right away and the lyrics provide enough depth to be considered a top performer in its field, which is great, considering that some anti-establishment anthems have the depth of a song written by a 12 year old who just listened to Rage Against The Machine for the first time (I’m looking at you again, Frank Turner. What the fuck kind of trash was “Make America Great Again”? Is this piece about liking The Menzingers’ new album or hating Frank’s last album? I forgot).
Anyhoo, up next comes “Anna”, another song that was released early. It continues the momentum of its predecessor and laments of a former lover who got their shit together and has started to fade from the life of a loser whose waiting around for her to come around again. In the month or so since this song was released, one of my exes moved to the west coast with her boyfriend and another announced her plans to backpack through Southeast Asia. Oof. It seems we’re beginning to strike a few sensitive cords for ol’ J-Bones over here.
Up next, the album continues it’s initial drive with “High School Friend”, a rockin’ tune about tearing it up with an old pal who moved far away, which I happened to do the night this album came out (good to see you again, Dennis!). While the song portrays the duo speeding down a highway in their hometown, my old high school (and college) friend and I caught up at a bar near my apartment. He’s now a news anchor with a great relationship and a new niece. I fell down the stairs of my apartment stoop on my way to meet him because my glasses were too scratched to see the package on the stairs and I can’t afford new ones. He sipped seasonal beer and talked about being on the scene of murder investigations and important political happenings. I sucked down glasses of whiskey like a new Dyson and told him about a cuckolding bit I’m working on. I’d say we both have a lot going for us.
From here, we get the first significant shift in momentum, with “Last to Know” slowing things down for a hot minute. While this isn’t the most memorable song in my mind, the emotion it portrays came in at the perfect time. It definitely sounds like how the hangover/allergy headache felt that following morning after catching up with my high school friend. Up next, the album ramps the drive right back up with “Strangers Forever”, the third song that was released early. Musically, this breakup jam (apparently inspired by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina) sort of blends in with other songs before it. My friend, Sarah, put it best in saying that it feels like “a cousin to ‘Anna’”, a sentiment I agree with, but the lyrics stuck with me. The tune sings about cutting ties with someone once very close, to the point of acting like the two never met, and boy, did that sentiment trigger some depressing memories in the midst of that hangover I was talking about.
The next three songs, “Hello Exile”, “Portland”, and “Strain Your Memory”, string together like that hungover afternoon did, with a slight dip in momentum and a steady climb back up. However, at this point, we hit a very pivotal point in the record/my sad-sack bender. “I Can’t Stop Drinking” was the soundtrack to a night out with some pals that swirled into a massive mood swing. The definitive slow jam of the album hits just like the depressive episode I entered after three particularly strong rum and colas at the dive bar down the street. As one friend left around the same time my good spirits did, I ditched my very intoxicated roommate at the bar like an ass, stopped at the liquor store halfway home for more rum, then the local 4am taqueria for a little al pastor adventure. The tune pretty clearly references the “Anna” touched on throughout the album and laments the absence of her warmth and touch in the singer’s life. For me, the metaphorical “Anna” was the 15-ish women in my life that I have a crush on at any given moment, and in that despair, I settled for the warmth of that delicious torta as I ate it, half nude, in my bed. I still need to get that verde sauce stain out of my duvet.
The album perks right back up at this point with “Strawberry Mansion” and “London Drugs”, much like my other roommate, who’s enthusiastic breakfast preparation before his Sunday morning recreational kickball league awoke a man who had a thumping in his head like the timpani solo in “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.
Finally, the album takes its last bow with “Farewell Youth”, a touching, piano-laden bon voyage to more innocent years and regrets of taking those years for granted. The song was a fitting summation of my Sunday, in which I received yet another wedding invitation from a woman I pined over in high school and found a multitude of gray hairs in the unkempt stubble on my face. And to what epiphany, you ask, did I come to in this stupor of a weekend? That I’m going to grow my beard out. Identifying as one of those salt n’ pepper fellows doesn’t sound so bad.
All in all, was this album a blowout for me? Yes, but mostly because of the timing of its release to my own life. This album did not carry the burden of their previous banger of a record, “After The Party”, which picked up the slack of the mostly lackluster (in my opinion) “Rented World”, which in its defense, held the heavy burden of following the masterpiece that was “On The Impossible Past”. As I stated before, this album was exactly what I expected out of the Menzingers. I find it very intriguing when we decide a band needs to show some sort of evolution of sound from record to record or locks in on a sound we never want them to deter from. In The Menzingers’ case, however, this “exactly what I expected” was exactly what I needed.