Joyce Manor – Cody

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Since forming in 2008, Southern Californian punk band Joyce Manor have released four albums of varying character and sound, witnessed line-up changes [1], created a storm of controversy within branches of the hardcore community [2], and yet have retained a devoted fanbase who reflect the band’s disparate yet unifying sound of punk, indie rock, hardcore and emo. On their latest album Cody, the four-piece offer a restrained twist on their previous work by utilising an established producer and spending more time crafting ideas in the studio as opposed to their past approach of recording in a few days. Those fond of the punk-influenced aggression of their self-titled debut, or wishing for a more ambitious shift, may be let down by this album which frequently features melodies that border on saccharine anthemic pop. Yet fans of their previous album and major label debut Never Hungover Again will be over the moon with this record which overflows with charming energy and tales of blossoming youth.

Joyce Manor’s arrangements characteristically rely on brevity, squeezing as many expertly written hooks and interplaying guitar refrains within songs that barely last over a minute; their second album was just twelve minutes long. Notably, Cody features two of Joyce Manor’s longest tracks to date – ‘Stairs’ and ‘Last You Heard Of Me’ – which expand on the emo by way of power-pop of Never Hungover Again. The latter track cleverly darts between dynamic interplay reminiscent of Pinkerton-era Weezer; chunky, band-supported choruses meet solitary guitars whilst melancholic moods are furthered by dejected backing vocals. The new-found approach of using an established producer pays off tremendously on ‘Stairs’ [3], as twinkly instrumentation and a backwards guitar solo add depth to the composition and recurrences of the song’s most memorable moments (the chorus and repetition of “Christ I can’t do dishes”).

Additionally highlighting newfound approaches for Joyce Manor is ‘Do You Really Want to Not Get Better?’, a Tigers Jaw-influenced acoustic ballad featuring overlapping male/female vocals. Whilst the track offers a nicely hi-fidelity equivalent of ‘Drainage’ and ‘I’m Always Tired’ (lo-fi acoustic cuts featured on their more experimental second album Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired) and in contrast to the band’s usual tactic of brevity, could have been longer; a repeated refrain or chorus wouldn’t go amiss. The melancholic track sits inelegantly near the centre of the record, it’d befit swapping with the energetic ‘This Song Is A Mess But So Am I’ to end the album on a more subdued and less disjointed note.

Cody Joyce Manor

On opener ‘Fake I.D.’, one of Cody’s catchiest moments, Barry Johnson recalls past dialogues as a guitar motif repeats throughout; a perfect start that outlines the upbeat and vibrant feel of the record. Johnson’s lyrics are delivered melodically, contrasting the emotively poetic with dry sarcasm and a touch of conversational wit; the lyrics and vocals have always been a vastly significant part of Joyce Manor due to their striking memorability.

It is this upbeat poppiness which is ultimately the factor of divisiveness for the record; the band wear their harmonious spirit on their sleeves and though it stems from indie rock/pop territories (Teenage Fanclub are a clear influence on Cody), the sound often borders on the more accessible acts of 90s emo such as Jimmy Eat World, Saves The Day and The Get Up Kids. Fans of these groups will adore Cody and particularly ‘Over Before It Began’ with its swooning vocals – which negatively reflect upon past relationships; ‘Make Me Dumb’, which features one of the band’s strongest hooks to date; and ‘Eighteen’ which plays with a youthful spring in its step. Followers who are more attuned to the Jawbreaker-meets-The Descendents crunch of Joyce Manor’s debut may dismiss parts of Cody, though for them ‘Reversing Machine’ is a career-spanning song that will sit perfectly in both camps of the band’s fan base; grumbling, distorted basslines encounter gruff vocals which transform into sweet melodies, and it closes with choppy rhythms and awkward, discordant guitars.

Overall, Cody is a fantastic album full of ear-worm encouraging hooks and heart-on-sleeve lyrics, and instead of feeling like a direct emulation of Never Hungover Again, it feels like a sequel. There’s progression in instrumentation guided by production and songs now allow the recurrence of their highest highs. Nevertheless, it does suffer from minor downfalls such as an awkward track-listing and difficulties surrounding the group channelling their more obscure and atypical influences into sounds more similar of typical groups, a problem they have never struggled with before such as consciously recalling parts of The Smiths and Thin Lizzy into genius measures [4]. Cody may be contentious, but there’s no question that Joyce Manor remain the leaders in an oversaturated and unduly maligned pop punk scene.

Footnotes:
1. The group originally started as a two-piece created by Barry Johnson and Chase Knobbe, while Cody features new drummer Jeff Enzor.
2. On their 2014 tour, the group notoriously created a storm in the punk community by taking an anti-stage diving stance at their shows (Source: Stereogum)
3. Cody was produced by Rob Schnapf who has worked with Elliott Smith, Guided By Voices and Beck
4. ‘Bride of Usher’ and ‘Violent Inside’ are influenced by The Smiths and the dual-guitar solo technique associated with Thin Lizzy can be heard on tracks such as ‘Schley’. These artists are also listed as influences on the band’s Last.FM page.

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