Joyce Manor – Cody (Epitaph, 2016)

I’ve been weirdly fascinated with Joyce Manor since I was passed their album (the self titled one) to review for A Short Fanzine About Rocking (ASFAR) in 2011. I’d been immediately blown away by what I could best describe as their then Jawbreaker meets Fugazi hybridised style, which they’d manage to crowbar into sub-2 minute songs. It was the first record I’d heard in some years that actually caused me to sit bolt upright and take notice. I’d been in the midst of an extended period of disillusionment or disenfranchisement or whatever since around 2008 (although this would ultimately go on until probably mid 2014), so this was quite a revelation to me.

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Since that debut full length, I’ve been keeping an eye and an ear on what they’ve been doing. This included a bit of initial disappointment with the follow-up record, Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired (2012). I say initial disappointment, and this would be entirely accurate, although it would last until I saw them at The Dome in Tufnell Park when they were touring their third album. I did end up rather liking it. I think initially, I’d found that I’d not been prepared for the way in which they’d changed things up. The poppier elements seemed to have been fore-grounded, with the addition of a slightly twee indie rock element. In the live context, though it was presented in a way that was more in touch with their debut. This led to me seeing those songs in a whole new light, and it finally clicked with me.

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On their third full length record, Never Hungover Again (2014), it became clear that Of All Things… had been a transitional album for them, in terms of their songwriting. Hungover… was something that I saw as a return to a more immediately appealing sound. It felt more balanced, and seemed to combine the best elements of the previous two records, to produce a thoughtful, well-rounded, yet still challenging album. Going back to the gig I was talking about before, the other thing that struck me was that (I was 37 at the time) I was one of the oldest people there. I was in the midst of a crowd of late teens to mid-twenties kids. But, what was interesting was that people were really getting involved. People weren’t snapping pics on their phones. They were shouting along, moshing and stage diving. I found something spiritually invigorating about seeing this going on around me. This was like a Jawbreaker for the current generation… I’d not been expecting it. Primarily because I was (am) a jaded old fuck. Secondarily because I’m predisposed toward thinking things were better back in my day (I can remember when all this were fields…), and that the scene these days is just even more full of posers than it ever was (probably still true) as well as an oversupply of those 18 year old dickheads that strut about carrying on as if they invented punk rock or whatever. Before anybody says “you were young once, Tony!” or something, I’ll state for the record that I was too much of a dweeb to be cocky or arrogant when I was younger, plus, unfortunately too willing to accept other people at face value.

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Anyway, digressions aside, let’s talk about Cody. First things first, I’d describe this as another change of pace for Joyce Manor. Not an insignificant one, either, although one that I found far less jarring. I’d broadly describe this record as exploring more of an indie rock direction. The opening combo of tracks Fake I.D. and Eighteen both have the classic self-consciously uplifting emo-pop bombast of Jets to Brazil around Four Cornered Night or Perfecting the Loneliness. By the time we hit third song, Angel In the Snow¸ we are beginning to see influences from the first couple of Weezer records. But the thing is, the songs are still pretty short.

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Last You Heard of Me is one of the stand out tracks on the album for me, and has a fairly simple intro that feeds into a gentle, quasi-stomp along that kind of reminds me of the first Brand New record, Your Favourite Weapon, way back 2001. This feeds nicely into Make Me Dumb, a nice rumbler with one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard in some time. Although, admittedly, I’m not mega keen on the first verse. The song really builds from start to finish, so it’s not a lasting issue. Over Before It Began, another big hitter for me, seems to channel the spirit of indie nerd-rock of the Promise Ring’s Very Emergency. It’s fantastic. It couples well with Reversing Machine, which oddly enough would not have felt out of place on Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American.

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Penultimate track (and best track), Stairs, has overtones that are decidedly reminiscent of The Smiths and The Cure, by way of Modest Mouse. It’s also an ode to being so inept that you still live with your parents when you aren’t on tour, and are so inept that you have none of the basic life skills that you really ought to have gotten by this age. It offers the question of what the protagonist will do when their parents pass away, and they still have no skills. This is coupled with a desire to protect and shelter those parents, to keep them safe. I find this to be a powerful message for some reason. Maybe that speaks to my guilt at living hundreds of miles away from my own parents. Who knows? The closing track, This Song Is a Mess, But So Am I seems to tread the line of Maybe I’ll Catch Fire era Alkaline Trio combined with an element of early 1990s indie-schmindie. But not in a shit way. If that makes sense. Which I’m not sure it does. I’m stuck for a better way to describe it though.

By conclusion, this is something of a catch-all tribute to some of the finest moments of indie rock history. However, these aren’t hackneyed imitations in any respect. This feels more like a loving ode to influences, which act as something of a cracked glaze on the earthenware pot of Joyce Manor’s pre-existing stylistic idiosyncrasies. The hallmark on the bottom is still obviously Jawbreaker’s Dear You, though. The cool drum fills, soulful vocals and abrupt ends to songs are still very much in evidence. I can’t wait to hear these songs live. Tony of Nurgle verdict, 8/10.

Stream it from the Joyce Manor website here and make your own opinion.

Tony of Nurgle is a true child of the North, currently living in exile in Croydon, South East London. He used to co-run a specialist record store in Manchester (Roadkill Records), and also spent a couple of years as a promoter, and put on shows for the likes of Leatherface, the Loved Ones, Lucero, Minus The Bear, These Arms Are Snakes, Spy vs Spy, Latterman etc. He also spent several years DJing at shady rock clubs in Manchester, and started the infamous Thursday night “punk room” at Jilly’s Rockworld. Also responsible for Middle Finger Response, and collaborated with a couple of friends on a monthly night called Refuse to Lose, which will still occasionally reunite the original DJ line-up – hopefully in the not too distant future.
Apart from that, it’s all bitterness and a jaundiced view of human nature, rarely skateboarding, often reading books with maps in the front.

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