Never Hungover Again
I think you're funny
I like your friends
I like the way they treat you
I am a fairly late arrival to the pop punk scene.
For me, revealing this fact is a little bit like going to a (pick your appropriate Midwestern sports team) game, all dressed up in the jersey of the team's star player, your face painted team colors, cheering loudly all throughout the game, and then in the seventh inning/halftime/whatever that thing between periods in hockey is called, leaning over to your friend and casually admitting you just became a fan last week. The pop punk scene isn't necessarily exclusive, but there is a fierce sense of loyalty that its denizens tend to possess, and sometimes, they get suspicious of more recent converts like me. As much as I adore American Football (and I do, I'm dropping a significant sum of money to see them this fall and I'm totally psyched), I only knew a few songs before really becoming a massive fan in the last year or so. Ditto with Modern Baseball, Citizen, Seahaven, Into It Over It, Fireworks, etc.
It isn't that I didn't like these bands, I'd just sorta missed the indie pop punk train back in high school. I grew up primarily in the early 2000's, so of course I have a deep abiding love for Blink-182 (I've got a killer Tom Delonge impression), and I listened to plenty of other bands that relied primarily on singing nasally tracks about being in high school and having feelings for cute girls. But I wasn't really too aware of the other part of the genre, the part that's filled with extremely talented young musicians making catchy yet honest music about growing up. Bands like Joyce Manor.
Turns out, I got into pop punk at exactly the right time.
Joyce Manor began as a duo, made up of vocalist/guitarist Barry Johnson and guitarist Chase Knobbe, thought of during a drunken night at Disneyland and named after the apartment building by Johnson's house. They added a bassist and a drummer, released a well-recieved self-titled debut LP, and followed that up with a slightly more experimental jaunt, all the while touring. As with many pop punk bands, they developed a following, and slowly began to grow, all the while putting out great music. But it could easily be argued that Never Hungover Again, their third and latest album, might just be the best and most well-formed thing they've ever done.
The record opens with "Christmas Card", a slightly bittersweet recollection that combines driving guitars and a steady beat with wistful lyrics recalling the kind of conversations that seem to stick in your head for way longer than they have any right to. Johnson's delivery on each track, even the more carefree ones, carries a certain amount of desperation and raw, earnest emotion that draws the listener in, and never feels affected. When he sings about wanting an ugly heart tattoo that hurts ("Heart Tattoo"), so that he'll "know it's real", it doesn't feel like he's trying to be cool, or that he's making fun of the ugly tattoos that plenty of us have and love. Tracks "Victoria" and "Schley" flow into each other, suggesting the possibility of a full name broken up into two simple song titles with radically different viewpoints. The first one is filled with bitter admissions of an inability to leave a toxic relationship, but the second track seems to be in a different mindset entirely, one where seeing their name in the phonebook just doesn't bug you anymore.
The thing I haven't mentioned about all of these tracks is their length: not a single track on the album is longer than two and a half minutes. Each song is exactly as long as it needs to be, filled with plenty of fantastic riffs and drum fills, the occasional synth, and Johnson's vocals as the guiding light for all of it. By the time the album reaches its final three tracks, there's a sense of closure that's seriously remarkable for such a short timespan, as "In the Army Now" takes on the tone of the coffee date with that ex-boy/girlfriend you realize you're really just tired of talking to by now. "Catalina Fight Song", one of the best standouts on an album full of them, clocks in at just over a minute, but includes the lyrics, "there's no way to keep in touch with certain people, you wonder how long something can last, pretty sure most people don't think about that." It's a realization that most if not all of us reach at some point, in a moment of terrifying clarity where you realize you might not see most of these people ever again, and you're okay with that. The album doesn't necessarily end on a pure high note, but the last verse of closing track "Heated Swimming Pool" seems to imply that the scrawled words on someone else's hand next to you poolside "never better" might actually be an accurate statement.
As quickly as it started, it's over, and you find yourself clicking play on the first track again, needing to hear all nineteen minutes again for the things you missed the first time, and all the things that you can't help but relate to. And that, in some ways, is what bands like Joyce Manor are all about. One of the best examples of what the album is about, really, is the track "Falling In Love Again", which has the surprisingly positive lyrics included at the top of this review, along with the trepidation of fresh feelings that you can't really understand yet, but that you know mean something. Sometimes, that's all that you need to know.
A friend of mine recently mentioned he didn't like pop punk very much. When I asked why, he responded that for him, it was just "music about growing up and the way you feel about things before you hit your late twenties." Maybe so. I'm not convinced that that makes this kind of music any less important; everyone starts out young, and has to eventually grow up. But I think the crux of why some people will never "get" pop punk is simpler than that. Pop punk, at its core, embraces being uncool. The songs are about feelings, and breakups, and crushes, and parents, and losing your friends as you get older, and not having a single clue what you're going to do with your life. These are universal things, but talking about them unabashedly isn't necessarily the coolest thing.
The thing is, Joyce Manor doesn't really care about cool. In an interview with Noisey, Johnson puts it pretty simply: "I wouldn’t say we’re really a band for a “casual listener.” There’s certain people who will totally latch onto what we do. I don’t really care what the casual listener thinks, I think it’s more important that there’s freaks out there like me that will be like, “Your music means everything to me!” That’s the kind of band that we are." And at the root of it, that's what pop punk is: a community of people who make and listen to music that speaks to something fundamentally human, and tries to help each other out. I may be a recent convert, but I'm a happy one, and a willing evangelist: give pop punk, and Joyce Manor more specifically, a chance. You might just be surprised by what you find.
Written by Trevor Spriggs
Photos of Joyce Manor by Miyako Bellizzi