Joyce Manor Soar to New Heights with ‘Cody’
We reviewers love to talk about bands maturing. We just love it when bands grow up and change up their sound and get weird and piss off all their old fans. In Joyce Manor’s case, the maturing happened two years ago, when they signed to Epitaph. 2014’s Never Hungover Again shifted emphasis a little bit off the “punk” part of “pop-punk” and onto the “pop,” with cleaner production, (slightly) longer songs, and much larger hooks. In a lot of ways, Cody feels like it continues down the path that album headed towards. These songs are finer-tuned, with some of their most unabashedly pop choruses and glossiest production yet – not to mention, four songs push three minutes, with one being over four.
But let’s start from the beginning. The first single, “Fake ID,” introduces you to the New and Improved Joyce Manor with enough grit to grab fans of their more straight-up punk material and enough sheen to catch the pop listener’s ear. Every verse feels like a chorus in this song, but when you get to the chorus, man, is it a chorus. “What do you think about Kanye West?” Barry Johnson asks before immediately answering: “I think that he’s great/I think he’s the best/Yeah I think he’s better than John Steinbeck/And I think he’s better than Phil Hartman.” It ought to be hilarious, but Johnson wraps it up in one of the album’s most memorable melodies (and there are a lot of those) as it becomes one of the year’s most quotable and catchiest hooks. It’s a perfect introduction to the album, giving a perfect taste of their punk-by-way-of-powerpop style.
Other songs provide more significant departures. “Last You Heard of Me” and “Over Before It Began” come to mind; the first is an almost straight-up alt rock song a la Good for Me-era Swellers or some of the slower ‘90s Green Day cuts. It builds slowly over its three-minute runtime, from just Johnson’s voice and guitar, to the addition of drums, to the inclusion of a fuzzed-out guitar at the song’s climax. Then “Over Before It Began” could probably be fairly classified as a ballad. These two are totally unique within the Joyce Manor canon and they’re proof that the band’s just as good – honestly, probably even better – when they’re stepping on the brakes. This is what reviewers mean when we talk about bands growing up.
If these two songs exemplify Joyce Manor’s effortless maturation, “Stairs” shows off all the growing pains. At 4:02, it’s nearly a full minute longer than their previous longest song ever, and Johnson makes the most of every moment as guitars burst and swell around him, laying out some of his most sincere and vulnerable thoughts: “Yeah I’m 26 and I still live with my parents/Oh I can’t do laundry/Christ I can’t do dishes/What’ll I do without you?” (Let’s ignore that he wrote the song at 19.) The words are nothing profound, sure, but damned if it doesn’t hit hard to hear them spoken out loud. Johnson’s never been a particularly prolific lyricist, but he’s always been just as evocative as the most poetic songwriter, and never has this talent been more apparent than on this album. Perhaps “Over Before It Began” is the best example. The song’s central line is probably the simplest on the album, but it’s also the most effective. As the track winds down and the guitars fade out, all we’re left with is Johnson’s voice, letting us know that “Even though I have always loved you, it was over before it began.
When I listen to Cody, I’m reminded a lot of Jawbreaker’s Dear You. It wasn’t the rough, fast-paced punk people expected; it was a glossy, borderline pop album that found Jawbreaker dabbling in new styles, stretching their sound in directions no one would’ve thought them capable of. That band’s “mature” album, at the time, cost them swaths of fans. Retrospectively, it’s seen as the band’s magnum opus, which isn’t a small feat, given that they’d released three punk classics beforehand. Never Hungover Again saw the band take that Jawbreaker leap from a punk band to something more. Cody takes that album and improves on it in every way. If history is to be trusted, Cody might someday be seen as a staple in the same way as Dear You. If you think that claim sounds a bit hyperbolic, well, you just must not have listened yet.
Cody is officially out now! You can purchase a copy of the record here.