Joyce Manor's third LP, Never Hungover Again, feels as if it starts in the middle of itself. “Christmas Card,” the first track on the release, seems more like a third or fourth track. There is no introductory guitar part, no flurry of drum beats – just a driving pop punk song that is disruptive in its immediacy. It's an offbeat way to start an album, which is nothing less than what I'd expect from the California pop punk/emo band, whose releases have always been dripping with whimsy, self-deprecation and surreal observations. Joyce Manor's previous album, Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, saw the band veering away from the raw punk of earlier releases and toward a more polished indie rock sound. When I sat down to listen to Never Hungover Again, I was excited to see how Joyce Manor had evolved, but apprehensive. The group had just signed to Epitaph Records, one of the biggest indie labels in the scene (and while it currently houses giants like Converge, Propagandhi and The Lawrence Arms, it also houses what I can only describe as 'crabcore'). Would they keep their punk edge? Would they enter into the vacuity that is the term 'indie rock?'
While “Christmas Card” is remarkable for its placement, it didn't do much for me in other aspects. It's a straightforward pop song without much variation, but for its arresting nature as a beginner for an album, I would consider it filler. The next song on the album, “Falling in Love Again,” showcases some of the genre-bending that makes Joyce Manor a standout in the scene. “Falling in Love Again” has an interesting melody complete with great vocal harmonies. The ambient synth in the background and the reverb on vocalist Barry Johnson's almost-cracking voice as he repeats the last line make this song one of the best on the album. As in all of their songs, “Falling in Love Again” drops lines that are evocative without being expository. The line, “Look at a yearbook unprepared” is vague enough to remain poetic while still simple enough to conjure up a feeling that anybody with ghosts in her/his past could relate to.
Track three, “End of the Summer,” continues the half-storytelling. The song has a plaintive quality that goes hand in hand with the title. “It's too sad / Blue marker on a paper bag / You could wear it like a mask / You could be your own dad” is a strange line, for sure, but it pokes at a certain feeling. It could easily be describing a kid at camp, playing with his lunch bag. It could easily be something completely different. Joyce Manor's interpretable lyrics are one of my favourite things about the band, and Never Hungover Again doesn't shirk on them. Don't worry, though, as Joyce Manor's poeticism isn't melodramatic and it doesn't take itself too seriously. The song “Schley” features the line, “Like old friends who never asked: 'How can you be happy when you wear all black?'”
Many people compare Joyce Manor to The Smiths; while I can see that, I think a more apt comparison would be to '90s power/jangle pop groups like Matthew Sweet and The Connells. “Victoria,” “The Jerk” and “Heated Swimming Pool” all sound like they could come off a punked-out version of The Connells' album Ring. This is not to say that Joyce Manor has lost their punk cred. A quick listen to the emotional, raucous, penultimate track on the album, “Catalina Fight Song,” will assure you of that. Of course, Never Hungover Again isn't without filler. As well as “Christmas Card,” “Heart Tattoo” felt out of place and just kind of thrown in there. All in all, though, “Heart Tattoo” registered my only complaint. Never Hungover Again is a great album and a great progression for Joyce Manor. It appears that signing to Epitaph has done them nothing but favors. Here's hoping the benches plastered with advertisements for this album garner this fantastic band a whole mess of new fans!