Ah, these past few years have been quite the rollercoaster ride. We’ve seen metalcore rise and wane almost as quickly as it came. Screamo is not a bad word anymore. Hot Topic emo kids have now moved on to American Apparel and became hipsters. Gruff voiced beard punks are the new 90’s skatepunkers and yet, amidst the constant waves of change, emerges Long Beach, CA’s own Joyce Manor.
Joyce Manor are a solid curveball to current punk trends and give us their first LP offering in the manner of a self-titled album on 6131 Records. This debut featured a unique brand of pop punk that rivals the best of their peers, and should leave some veterans taking notes. They combine all the quirky instrumentations you’d find on anArchers of Loaf record with the blunt lyrical honesty of Blake Schwarzenbach. Add to this the instantly memorable hooks from an early era Weezer, splash some breakneck speed in there and set the blender to ‘crush’. The result is a very fun and deep record with very high replay value that unfolds under a brisk 22 minutes.
The band owes a big part of their success to this interesting feature; their songs unfold under hardcore-approved running time. Exceptions made of a few songs over 2 minutes and only one making it past the 3 minute mark, they rarely let you catch your breath. Every song is jam-packed with dissonant melodies, pounding tempos and huge hooks. Opener “Orange Julius” g ets straight to the point and kickstarts the record on a strong note that would dumbfound even the most jaded of punks.
They get the ball rolling quickly and never let go, until album closer “Constant Headache” wraps things up with what is truly one of 2011’s watershed moments. The song finds the band expanding their sound a little bit and letting every word, hook, and crescendo sink into your brain. When singer/guitarist Barry Johnson is caught reminiscing with his straining voice, singing “I couldn’t hold back a smile, I still wish I could have seen you having sex in the morning, your love was foreign to me. It made me think maybe human is not such a bad thing to be. But I just laid there in protest, entirely fucked.It’s such a stubborn reminder one perfect night’s not enough.”, the emotions and nostalgia is transmitted to the listener like a disease. The words used are blunt but are written and sung in such honesty that it sometimes becomes borderline voyeuristic for the listener. When you hear Johnson sing about an old friend turned bad on “Leather Jacket”, you can’t help but put the face and name of someone you once knew and loved on this guy.
While lyrics are one of the record’s strongest asset, they also become one of it’s only flaws. While the stories are interesting and the choice of words is spot-on, the shortness of the songs sometimes makes them feel slightly contrived and incomplete. It would be interesting to see what these songs could have been if they where a bit more fleshed out. This could be endemic to general fabric of the album, but most of the fun to be had here is entirely because of how everything is to-the-point. The band are obviously talented songwriters and their progression will be interesting to watch.
Those picky about production values should be fairly satisfied here. While everything is crystal clear (the sound of the bass alone on this record is worth your hard earned bucks) it’s still messy enough to maintain it’s raw power. The drum sounds crisp yet bold and bouncy. Every bass note is a punch in the guts. The guitars are clawing at your face, but when they want to be gentle they’re tugging at your heart. On top of that, the vocals are sitting just enough to the forefront of it all so that you can hear every word.
Joyce Manor are no longer a promising young act… they’re becoming a full-fledged force of nature and I have evidence to back up this statement. A definite must-have.