CODY by Joyce Manor
Genre: Power Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Eighteen,” “Last You Heard Of Me,” “This Song Is A Mess But So Am I”
Depending on when you jumped in, your idea of what SoCal’s Joyce Manor is, was, or could be can fall anywhere on a massive sonic spectrum. Their 2011 self-titled full-length debut was inhalable — clocking in at 18 minutes, it featured raw, furious bangers that leaned heavily into the punk side of an often soggy pop-punk umbrella. Since then, the band has followed an increasingly pop trajectory with their sound, alluring a new breed of punk fans, while alienating many of those they already had.
Following a forgettable follow-up to their success in 2011, and a massive public outcry by the band at their shows to halt all stage diving, Joyce Manor begged the question: Can pop kill punk? In 2014, on their third release, NEVER HUNGOVER AGAIN, they gave us the answer we were all secretly hoping for — It doesn’t have to. Joyce’s new batch of songs, again falling under the 20 minute mark, redefined how pop songs can interact with the inherently anti-pop. They maintained the unique roughness found on their self-titled release, all while providing us with a newfound pop sensibility. They reached equilibrium — pop and punk working almost perfectly together. They even taught some of us how to dance, rather than mosh.
NEVER HUNGOVER AGAIN proved that rawness and traditionalism was not what was keeping Joyce Manor in our heads. Instead, it was the unique perspective and lyrical quips of singer and frontman Barry Johnson, who actively created a through line between every song in the band’s discography. His voice is bratty and suburban, reminiscent of the ʼ90s garage rock that indoctrinated us into the scene, while providing a perhaps unintentional maturity guised in the mundane. That, matched with the consistently clutch sonic arrangements and tonal rooting found from record to record, proved Joyce Manor finally understood their sound, right around the same time we did.
Which brings us to CODY, Joyce Manor’s latest release on Epitaph Records, whose shortcomings do not come from the even more accessible sound offered by the band, but rather, the shifting of voice from track to track. “Fake I.D,” the opener and first single from the album, is a fake out; as one of the stronger tracks on the record, it gives listeners a false idea of what kind of bubblegum to expect on the album, as no track seems to tonally replicate it.
What listeners find instead are a bundle of unpolished, could-have-been hits — tracks that ache with untapped potential, but ultimately fall flat. Songs like “Angel In The Snow,” “Over Before It Began,” “Make Me Dumb,” and “Reversing Machine” are frustrating because of how damn middling they are. The band finds itself at constant junctures on these tracks that feel as if they could become jumping points for exploration, but instead elect to coast, running with simple pop ideas without fitting them into their newly established voice.
When the band does take risks on CODY, they feel cheap and simple. “Do You Really Want to Not Get Better?,” one of Joyce Manor’s only released acoustic tracks, while conceptually exciting, provides little room for interrogation. The song lacks in melody and in turn leaves a hollow sensation that feels far from satisfying. “Stairs,” the longest track the band has ever released, is drawn out and unrecognizable from all previous Joyce tracks. The four-minute track doesn’t play as a risk that fell flat, but rather a gimmicky song lacking in direction. The biggest disappointments on the record come from a perceived laziness, not swings and misses, but rather pitches that we didn’t even get the chance to swing at.
Mixed into the rough of CODY are a few standout tracks. “Eighteen” is an example of Johnson successfully deploying his voice from the perspective of someone a few generations younger than him, all while being fueled by a bouncy groove that would have fit well into NEVER HUNGOVER AGAIN. The second single from the album, “Last You Heard Of Me,” was the track I found myself eagerly waiting to get to on return listens. It’s sharp, heart-wrenching, and narratively interesting, maintaining attention with driving guitars and an emotional swell that continually gave me chills. The album closes with “This Song Is A Mess But So Am I,” which is a glimpse at the pop sound we hoped Joyce would have embraced on the entirety of this album. It’s fun and catchy as hell.
Joyce Manor has been on a pilgrimage from punk to something closer to pop rock since their first full-length release five years ago. They have proven to us on multiple occasions that these two can coexist, and that the medium between punk and pop is actually pretty exciting, regardless of how many non-traditional rockers it welcomes into the scene (which should be embraced, not resented). It’s not the bubblegum hooks or cliché chord progressions that aren’t working on CODY, it’s all of the little inconsistencies that have created this baby step. CODY feels like an in-between album — a half-baked step towards the next Joyce Manor experience. CODY does not come close to depleting the love fans have for this band, it just leaves us waiting for what comes next.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend