Never Hungover Again
by Chad Jewett
Never Hungover Again is an economic nineteen minutes of diligently utilitarian pop-punk. To expect more is to fundamentally misunderstand the milieu of Joyce Manor; to expect less is to fundamentally misunderstand Joyce Manor themselves. The album’s ten songs are brief and committed more to the spartan informality central to the idea of contemporary pop-punk than they are to salient melodies or traditional song shapes – often times the tunes at the hearts of these tracks feel intuitive, grasping the first melody that comes to mind. Like the early days of emo’s modern renaissance, during which the movement’s sound was defined by the ad-hoc idiosyncrasies of Snowing, 1994!, and Algernon Cadwallader, bands like Joyce Manor are refashioning a certain corner of threadbare melodic indie rock, but doing so from an ascetically limited archive. Never Hungover Again exists in a world perpetually caught between Godamnit! and Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, where we remember The Get Up Kids not for Something To Write Home About but for Four Minute Mile, where we limit our affections to Hello Bastards only. The album’s influences are the result of suspended animation, even as its narratives are devoted to suspended adolescence.
At times, as on the album’s opening track, “Christmas Card,” Joyce Manor makes the evergreen sing-songs of those records work by reflecting less the actualities of the best albums of the pop-punk 90s and more the way you might have sang those albums, which of course, is the unspoken point of this music. Melodies often show up in the form they take in used sedans – eager, informal, and bent slightly out of shape. The descending melody of “Christmas Card” frays a bit at the edges (singer Barry Johnson is frequently either too sharp or too flat, trying to wrestle his narrow tenor into shape), but nevertheless ends up a fine enough vessel to hold the song’s loud-quiet-loud trajectory, familiar enough to cut through a dense lacquer of guitars.
“End Of The Summer” is fittingly autumnal and appropriately archetypal (ends of summers, like ends of youth, are the elemental alphabet of this aesthetic), Johnson’s taste for wilting melodies making sense amongst a roomy verse of slinky bass and the kind of swaying, twilit chorus that illuminated the back half of Through Being Cool. “Victoria” succeeds with fleet mall-punk athleticism hammered into Jersey’s Best Dancers shape, where any space on the canvas is nevertheless drizzle-painted with Coke-fizz Stratocasters. Unsurprisingly, Joyce Manor excel when they access all that’s mythic and outsized about pop-punk, when the haze that hangs over Never Hungover Again feels most like the one that dusts old records.
Elsewhere, it becomes harder to sense what Joyce Manor want these songs to be exactly. “Falling In Love Again” has 1-3-5 harmonies and the kind of mordant love matters that are supposed to make these songs go, but the track somehow feels inert, caught in a mid-tempo ebb tide that seems to want to soak in a variety of Morrissey/Marr romanticism that doesn’t do the same kind of sulking. In a way, there’s something perfect about a band making young music and missing the wryness of The Queen Is Dead, but “Falling In Love Again” nevertheless feels mired down. The same might be said for “Schley,” another two-minute model of efficiency that nevertheless gets tangled. The song has direction going for it, built around a serviceable engine of bass and drums, but without much of a melody to keep the song’s head above water, the whole thing feels more like an interlude leading up to an inevitably explosive coda. If Joyce Manor excel in the gestures and moods of a certain era of heartsick punk, it remains a bit less clear at times why all of this speaks to them, leaving a gap that nostalgia can’t quite fill.
Yet, at the album’s best, there is still something appealing about Joyce Manor’s obvious affection for this genre and its forever-young malcontents. Whenever the album figures out its own distinct feelings, we do too. “Heart Tattoo” operates on the notebook-poetic specificities that powered Mark Hoppus’s half of Dude Ranch, the song revolving around the title object until you’re charmed by just how overladen the symbol becomes, until you’re worn down by all of that earnestness. When a distinctly Tom DeLonge-esque counter-melody arrives to accent the song’s springy outro, you can’t help but admire the band’s attention to detail, its near-scientific understanding of the orchestral niceties running like a current beneath melodic punk’s supposed simplicity. Never Hungover Again works when it finds a way to make austere symphonies out of stuff that’s supposed to be instinctual, when it manages to reminisce and innovate at the same time.