The Mic's Hal Hewlett reviews the latest project from California three-piece Joyce Manor.
40 oz. To Fresno is the latest album from indie punk group Joyce Manor, a band that has cemented itself in the 2010s pop-punk landscape for catchy songwriting, extremely short songs and albums, and a consistent output, having released six albums, seven EPs and two compilations since their 2011 self-titled. Although consciously working within the same sonic space, their newest record represents both a return to earlier work, and a furthering of the band’s more recent power-pop direction, leading to a record that sounds classically catchy at best, but sadly unambitious at worst.
In many ways, 40 oz. to Fresno is a callback. The whole album stemmed from a rediscovered offcut:
Secret Sisters, and the band returned to Rob Schnapf for production, who had previously worked on their 2016 record Cody. All of this, combined with the mid-pandemic writing and recording period, makes for an album that is, quite consciously, less ambitious than Joyce Manor’s other projects. The band’s musical direction has progressed over the years from part of the mid-2010s pop punk revival to a more power pop direction, favouring hook-based songwriting and, especially present here, more glossy and clean production. The word “unambitious” may seem harsh, but given that the album begins with a cover and ends with an unreleased B-side, I believe it’s also accurate. The cover that debuts the record is Souvenir, originally by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and frankly, falls rather flat. While the more spacey yet still energetic sound does work, especially in the chorus, the verses feel too indecisive to make much of an impression, especially for the album’s opener.
"...while Joyce Manor's more pop-infused direction is profitable, there are still kinks to be worked out."
The two subsequent songs, NBTSA and Reason to Believe, are probably the album’s two weakest,
managing to make even their sub 90-second run times feel like filler. Neither song provides much in instrumental innovation, and both are mired in simplistic and repetitive lyrics. Any potentially strong, energetic presentation is muted by the production, which, while a high point of the record overall, makes these two particular tracks feel too flat to make much of an impact. These two songs feel like weird, poor imitations of Kaiser Chiefs or something, and are living proof that, while Joyce Manor’s more pop-infused direction is profitable, there are still kinks to be worked out.
You’re Not Famous Anymore is a nice return to quality - the production here is quite nice, and strikes a great tension between the choppy strummed rhythm and jangling lead guitars, providing a driving rhythm behind the track, complimenting the more spiteful lyricism and vocal style very well. In absence of any kind of big emotional build, the song is catchy, short and sweet. It’s followed up by the album’s two singles, Don’t Try and Gotta Let It Go, both of which are good additions - both songs, especially the latter, bring a sort of grungy, power-pop sound that compliments the extremely fast songwriting style (Don’t Try has four choruses over a 1 minute 40 second run time!) and is well
composed, if not groundbreaking. It's certainly an enjoyable listen, condensing catchy songwriting and impassioned performances into a small package.
Beyond these two tracks, Dance With Me leads with a very nice instrumental and energy, but squanders this start on substanceless, cliched lyricism and the oft-repeated technique of playing just the bass part during verses to underpin the lyrics. Unfortunately, this scrubs away the song’s main likeable feature - it’s fun in the choruses, but otherwise feels like somewhat of a non-starter.
As far as the final two tracks, they make for good closers. Although Did You Ever Know smacks of
some early Weezer offcut, with the same pounding instrumentals, strained vocals, group chorus vocals, and slightly cheesy lyrics about love, it’s still quite good, a fun listen even with some of the same problems that have plagued this project overall. It’s one of the few songs that I wish had been longer on this project: a good sign in and of itself. The album ends how it began - with Secret Sisters, which does feel as expected - a shot of the band’s early work, more angsty and powerful than most of the songs here, but nonetheless retaining the catchiness and energy that Joyce Manor have taught us to
If it seems as though not much has been said about 40 oz. to Fresno, it’s because there really isn’t
much to say. This album, while good in spots, represents perhaps the band’s most samey yet, and
while there are the occasional songs that catch the ear, the feeling that this album is missing some jolt
of innovation is tough to shake. While 40 oz. to Fresno is certainly worth a listen, it nonetheless lacks the pedigree that Joyce Manor has established over the last decade - it’s sixteen minutes of condensed, passive fun, but not a whole lot more.
Edited by: Caradoc Gayer
In article and cover images courtesy of Joyce Manor via Facebook. In article video courtesy of Epitaph Records via Youtube.