This one took a while to stand out, which I didn’t expect given the accolades Joyce Manor has been ringing up with their three releases. Never Hungover Again is my first listen to the band and I can’t say I understand the hype. While they do their style well, it doesn’t jump ahead of the pack, with the predominant power behind their songwriting lying in the separation of the instruments and the ability to combine different elements into a unified emo-punk song. That, and the brevity.
This record pulls strongly from ‘90s emo, back when the word had a different meaning and one I cling to. The guitars plot and wander, culminating in power chord choruses that pile on the content before exploring new territory in the verses. The vocals are emphatic, forceful, and a touch mopey, but the songs are truly about the guitars weaving in and out of the bigger structure with some emotional peaks within. A true strength for Joyce Manor is the drumming, which powerfully leads the songs and gives more of a straight-up punk energy while the rest of the band does the mid-tempo thing. It gives a needed boost that fits the band’s tendency to bang through each song in 1 to 2 minutes—a definite difference from the 4-6 minute emo songs of yore. But enough of comparing them to other bands at this point.
Barry Johnson’s vocals are strong but not all that distinct. It’s slightly coarse but mostly smooth, keeping up with Kurt Walcher’s rhythm but never really spinning anything new out of it. There’s not much variation in pitch or range and that would get old were it not for the fact that this 10 song record is over in just 19 minutes. He sings, which is another separator from the standard punk rock band, but it’s still the voice of a punk singer, maybe like if Greg Graffin of Bad Religion were fronting a band of this type instead of the rapid fire delivery he institutes with his band (who just happens to run the label this is on). He doesn’t sound like Graffin, just has a similar kind pf monotone that’s going to be a divisive factor of if you’re a fan of the band or not.
Fans of punked-up emo should eat this up. Joyce Manor correct some of the weaknesses of the genre by speeding it up and breaking it down to its basics, and they’re somewhat less predictable than many of their peers as far as song movements and topics, but Johnson’s voice just doesn’t move me, which is a big part in enjoying any record. The brevity plays in their favor, though closing track “Heated Swimming Pool,” even with a near minute-long instrumental close out, feels like it ends in the middle of something rather than giving any sense of closure. Of course, that seems to be Joyce Manor’s tone: seeking without answers, an endless cycle.
7.0 / 10
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Posted March 5, 2015, 5:22 p.m.
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