This post originally appeared on Punktastic.com.
Change is uncomfortable. And in music, that can be applied to the artist as well as the listener. An artist might seek out to create a completely new sound, or they may choose to try and replicate a previously acclaimed album, rarely being successful. But as listeners, we’re not always willing to grow and progress with the artist. When we connect with an album so deeply we tend to expect that same overwhelming and soul-cradling feeling over and over again. Music is meant to change. Artists are encouraged to grow, and so are listeners.
When bands like Joyce Manor push themselves in new directions, it coerces the listener to shift and adapt with them. For example, their 2011 self-titled album and 2012’s ‘Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired’ illustrated the band shouldering through the anxiety and bitterness of their early 20s. In 2014, we were coldly re-positioned with ‘Never Hungover Again’, which left a bit of sarcasm and condescension lingering in the air around us. Five years after their debut full-length and seven years after their first demo, we’re given a glimpse into a newer, clearer version of Joyce Manor as they saunter into the confidence of nearly 30.
Instead of moving swiftly through recording and production as they did with ‘Never Hungover Again’, which was recorded in just ten days, the band found themselves with two months and a de facto fifth member, producer Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, Guided By Voices, Saves The Day). In a press release, Barry Johnson (guitar / vox) says of the process: “It was the first time we really used the studio to our advantage. I felt like I could get a better grasp on what we could do. We always recorded like a punk band — go in and lay ‘em down! Just get good takes! And this time we tried a lot more.”
The variety that Johnson mentions is certainly not just for show. Songs like ‘Angel In The Snow’ and ‘Do You Really Want To Get Better’ greet us with a stark difference from where the band left us with ‘Never Hungover Again’ in 2014. As if the heartbroken, bitter friend we once knew has moved past their fears of being alone and came to terms with their personal evolution. Or, what most people call, growing up. “I find that as I get older it’s easy to hold things from your youth close to your heart,” says Johnson. “Revisiting bands you were into ten years ago can seem exciting, but it’s creative suicide. It’s very important to find new things to be inspired by.”
Bouncing from track to track, it’s clear that early 2000s pop-punk has had a heavy hand in this album’s story. At the center of the album, ‘Last You Heard Of Me’ and ‘Make Me Dumb’ are by far the simplest melodies. Though offering an intimate narrative lyrically, ‘Last You Heard Of Me’ jets us back to 2002 in Southern California with its sugary guitars and mellow drumming. But if you’re having a rough time accepting Joyce Manor’s new mid-tempo sound, the distortion-filled essence of ‘Never Hungover Again’ and their self-titled can be found on ‘Eighteen’, ‘Reversing Machine’ and ‘This Song Is A Mess’. Drenched in melancholy and uncertainly, ‘Eighteen’ has one of the most intricate textural landscapes on the album.
While it’s easy to miss the animosity and corrosive nature of their previous releases, Joyce Manor have presented an illuminating case for when a band just needs to grow up and urges their listeners to do the same. Whether you’re a new listener or you’ve been following the band since their demo release in 2009, you’ll appreciate their genuine and fluid progression from teenage angst to well-adjusted, pensive adulthood.