At Joyce Manor’s 40-minute FYF Fest set in August 2015, vocalist and guitarist Barry Johnson was at a loss: “I don’t know what songs to play. We never play this long. This is why I want all my shows to be 20 minutes. And all my records to be 20 minutes.” Johnson wasn’t lying: most Joyce Manor songs clock in around 2 minutes in length, with no more than ten tracks per record. Taken together, Joyce Manor’s three full lengths add up to around 52 minutes total — that’s the length of the most recent Radiohead record. In an article on Grantland, the band’s output was compared with the legendary Guided by Voices, who also average short song lengths, but released records that consistently hit around 20 songs per album, mixing the gems with the dross. Johnson’s response: “Don’t you wish [Guided by Voices] wouldn’t? That’s where we come in: our albums are only the good ones.”
Never Hungover Again, Joyce Manor’s third full-length album, is, indeed, only made up of the good ones. Stem to stern, it has almost peerless consistency in quality, while presenting a multifaceted sonic approach. Album opener “Christmas Card” is buzzing pop-punk bliss, sounding like the best song you’ve never heard. From there, Joyce Manor try on a number of styles, from the emotive, slower tempo “Falling In Love Again” and “End of the Summer” to the more immediate hardcore pleasures of “Schley” and “Catalina Fight Song”, culminating in the Smiths-inspired closer of “Heated Swimming Pool”. The band’s concision is evidenced not only in each song’s respective brevity, but through the rigid structures and arrangements, balancing mathematical control and cathartic release.
Throughout the album, Johnson and his bandmates use pop, punk, and emo — genres forever associated with youth — to examine their own nostalgia. They marry lyrical imagery that speaks of summer’s passing and getting older to a clearly Californian sound that will be immediately familiar to those that were around for the pop-punk boom at the beginning of this century. The sonic and lyrical whimsy punch the heart of the mid-20s milieu: looking back at teenage years that are forever receding from the present and forward to an uneasy future, wondering if the best times are behind. Take these simple but evocative lyrics from “End of the Summer” that illustrate these feelings:
It’s too sad, blue marker on a paper bag / You could wear it like a mask, you could be your own dad / Like you’re supposed to, I could show you / At the end of the summer
These kinds of details — like the paper bag that is used to signify both goofing around and a sack lunch at a 9-to-5 job — are found throughout Never Hungover Again. Johnson’s lyrical confessions are oblique, but they always land within this nostalgic and yearning place. Unlike some of their contemporaries, Joyce Manor never wallow in the sweet sadness for too long. They transcend any criticisms of the “trite” subject matter and sound of their songs by maturely mirroring vacillating human emotions, making you laugh at certain points and teary-eyed at others. The immediacy of their music is a snapshot of a particular moment, evoking a feeling or situation without comment rather than intellectually asserting a point. Yet, while Never Hungover Again is Joyce Manor’s most polished and consistent album, each song feels alive and sounds best when played loud. Joyce Manor is a band that exists out of time, making previously written off forms come alive once again.