Review: Joyce Manor is Saving Pop Punk with 40 Oz. to Fresno

by Cameryn

Of the Tumblr bands who made it big in the early 2010s due in part to the catchy but ultimately meaningless “Save Pop Punk” mantra, few have survived the test of time quite like Joyce Manor. Real Friends and Man Overboard went on rocky hiatuses and communication from them has been few and far-between since. Neck Deep lost their label. The Front Bottoms and Brand New were exposed during the #MeToo movement. The last contender standing: Joyce Manor.

Joyce Manor never received the appreciation they were deserved. Their first album, which is self-titled, was widely shared online and became an instant cult classic, with songs like Constant Headache making its way outside of the tight Tumblr bubble, currently sitting at over 30 million streams on Spotify. Their first album with major label Epitaph, Never Hungover Again, followed the successful suit, and others were starting to catch on to the lack of attention they deserved, being referred to as “punks best kept secret” and eventually landing on Pitchfork’s “200 best albums of the 2010s” list.

Going into the 2020s, it seems that on most fronts, pop punk is officially dead. Possessed, perhaps, as MGK lives as a sort of demented face of it. What’s left of the corpse is coasting on nostalgia and anniversary tours. But there is a beacon of light in the distance: Joyce Manor, you’re still at it?

Their fifth studio album 40 Oz. to Fresno is a tight 16-minute, 9-track album with the catchy hooks and sweet, self-deprecating lyrics Joyce Manor is best at, only more self-assured. It’s been a four-year gap since their last release, and the time off has done them well: The opening track “Souvenir” contains some sweet riffs that feel leftover from 2016’s release Cody. If the song feels out of place lyrically within Joyce Manor’s discography, it’s understandable—it’s a cover of the Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark song of the same name. Compared to their 2012 cover of another new wave classic, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” this one is closer to the original track, paying homage while properly setting stage for the spunkiness on rest of the album. Following that is a new version of the previously released “NBTSA,” less rough around the edges than 2017’s release. Here, the band sounds more confident than ever on the with a Marr-inspired riff in the pre-chorus and Motion City Soundtrack’s Tony Thaxton rounding out the drums. 

A standout of the album comes from “You’re Not Famous Anymore,” a track frontman Barry Johnson described to Consequence of Sound as inspired by “bands that came up around the same time as us. It seemed like they had the whole world ahead of them and now they couldn’t draw 50 people. It’s tragic, but it’s also like, that’s most fucking people in the world. Boo-fucking-hoo.” The song is uncharactistically bitchy, as Johnson moans, “If life’s a gift you get / then get a gift receipt / ‘Cause you’re not famous anymore/ You’re working in a grocery store.”

The first single off the album, “Gotta Let It Go,” is an instant classic, full of pure Joyce Manor-isms and relentlessly replayable. Opening with reflections of boyhood, we then launch into adventures in stolen cars (and assurances that he’s “just messing”) and “fucked up and haunted” shells on the beach. 

“Dance With Me” feels like the inverse of “You’re Not Famous Anymore,” where instead of a teasing a faceless has-been, Johnson instead acknowledges the fact that he, and everyone around him is too a has-been. He invites us to unite with the lyrics “If your moods are mostly manic / But you’ve never been an addict / You’ve just got a little habit / That you couldn’t cope without / Then come on and dance with me.” Then later comes the self-deprecation: “Could it be that the room’s empty / And I’m just tearing out my heart for the soundguy?”

Closing out the album is “Secret Sisters,” a reject track from both Never Hungover Again and 2020’s rarities compilation album Songs from Northern Torrance. Johnson previously said the track would never fit on Never Hungover Again and it’s true—the track is a 90-second melodic banger, far removed from the lighter, punkier sounds Hungover was marked with. The earnestness in the lyrics is a highlight, and Johnson croons “I want you to know / That last time nothing happened / But somehow I don’t feel the same.” 

With every track on 40 oz. to Fresno, the band sounds more refined and more sure of themselves. They’ve outgrown most of their early emo influences and their Tumblr-era aesthetics, here sticking to a power-punk formula that highlights the blend of strengths in the group’s instrumentation and silly-yet-vulnerable lyricism. Tumblr kids who may have lost touch with their pop-punk tendencies may find a nostalgia within this record, but the band has never felt more pointed towards their own future. 

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