Joyce Manor – ’40 oz. to Fresno’

By Alex Sarychkin

In the age of the sprawling double album, stretched out to boost streaming numbers, followed up by a ‘Deluxe’ that tacks on a few extra loosies that likely should never have left the cutting room floor, it’s a breath of fresh air listening to the excellent new Joyce Manor album that clocks in at a perfect 19 minutes. ’40 oz. to Fresno’ arrives, beats you over the head with infectious melody, visceral guitars and perfectly executed transitions, barely gives you a second to breath and then departs, leaving you dazed but ready to start the whole thing over again. It’s a darker follow-up to 2018’s ‘Million Dollars to Kill Me’, though not so dark as to sway too far from the tried and tested Joyce Manor sound.

’40 oz. to Fresno’ opens with ‘Souvenir’. Driven by a mesmeric synth linen, lead-singer Barry Johnson showcases his vocal range, reminding us that his ‘obsession’ is ‘not important now’. And yet that is always what has drawn fans to Joyce Manor – an obsession with creating pop-punk that looks backwards as well as forwards. ‘Souvenir’ is every bit Motion City Soundtrack as it is Jawbreaker – the perfect conflation of the novel and the familiar. At three minutes, it’s the record’s longest track and yet it seems to skip by before ending abruptly. This is well trodden territory for the band who are reluctant to outstay their welcome and yet leave fans wishing that their songs were around that little bit longer.

On album standout ‘NBTSA’, this feeling couldn’t be more apparent. It’s a one-two punch, there one second and then gone the next. We never do find out the secret that means Johnson will ‘…never be the same again.’ He keeps us guessing, wondering, pondering for just over a minute and then we’re returned to the dark. In the 1970s, The Ramones were infamous for their ‘40 songs in 30 minutes’. It’s fair to say that at their current level, Joyce Manor could push that to fifty or sixty.

As we slip into ‘Reason to Believe’, we start to see the influence of Tony Thaxton, of Motion City Soundtrack fame, who sits behind the kit on the album. After the chaos of ‘NBTSA’, this is a moment of space, with jangling guitars that float across the mix. In the background, choral vocals provide ambience and we see that deep down, Joyce Manor really are after the ‘perfect’ pop song. On ‘You’re Not Famous Anymore’, we hear the story of the downfall of a ‘child star’, who ends up working in a ‘grocery store’. Perhaps this is a common occurrence in their hometown of California, but the jibes seem somewhat cold, and it’s a rare moment of malice on a record that otherwise celebrates difference. A song of observation is followed quickly by one of introspection. ‘Don’t Try’ explores the feelings of distance that all of us feel, even when we’re near to those that we care for. In a middle eight that bounces quickly back into the chorus, Johnson refuses to make us wait for the pay off. ‘I missed you so much today,’ he sings.

The final third of ’40 oz. to Fresno’ begins with what is sure to soon be a fan favourite. ‘Gotta Let It Go’ once more tackles self-doubt with a riff that’ll leave guitarists everywhere wondering why they didn’t come up with something so simple yet so hard-hitting. The half-time bounce is a welcome change in direction, providing a sense of contrast to the record’s faster numbers. On ‘Dance With Me’, the band take a leaf out of the Johnny Marr school of jangling indie-rock; with the absurd imagery of bunnies in baskets, it feels like a fever dream. Great songwriters take risks. They don’t take themselves too seriously. Joyce Manor have always had that playful streak – it’s part of what makes them so endearing.

Concluding tracks ‘Did You Ever Know’ and ‘Secret Sisters’ take listeners to well trodden territory – heartfelt numbers about leaving nothing behind and not feeling the same way you used to. They are feelings we can all relate to and Joyce Manor are masters at opening the window to sing to the world. The universal themes on ’40 oz. to Fresno’ make it easy for any listener to relate to, and this is part of their exceptional charm. It’s a record of joy and pain which, like the songs themselves, are often short-lived but endlessly repeatable.


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