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There’s a lyrical refrain that closes out the track ‘Fake I.D.’ — the opening track from Joyce Manor’s fourth album ‘Cody’ — that perfectly encapsulates the full emotional breadth of growing up: “But don’t be shy/Because my friend Brandon died/And I feel sad/I miss him/he was rad.” In some ways, this mix of existential angst, sadness, and regret could come off as glib and apathetic. But to anyone who’s lived through their 20’s (that is to say, you know, almost everyone), there’s something universal in vocalist and guitarist Barry Johnson’s lyrics, that speak to the incredibly subjective path we all trace through life: from childhood, to burgeoning adulthood, and on to the crippling, gaping-wide void that is anything beyond 35.
In keeping with the rest of Joyce Manor’s high-calibre back catalog, ‘Cody’ is very much a transitional record. A cursory glance at the track listing, with song titles like ‘Fake I.D.’, ‘Eighteen’, ‘Last You Heard Of Me’, ‘Over Before It Began’, ‘Reversing Machine’, ‘Stairs’ and ‘This Song Is A Mess But So Am I’, hints at an album that is deeply concerned with topics like ageing, transit, change, adolescence, and finality. While their second album, the incredible ‘Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired’ was concerned with pushing the group’s bratty punk sound through the glass ceiling of indie pop and beyond the scope of the Asian Man roster, it’s follow up ‘Never Hungover Again’ solidified Joyce Manor’s reputation as a nuanced, underground band that could comfortably talk about weed, love, booze and tattoos with the deftness and polish of any high-functioning, commercial phenomenon.
Like Weezer before them, Joyce Manor’s mix of hooks, catchy riffs, and insight-bordering-on-self-deprecation lyricism make them a transitional band purely in terms of genre, serving to highlight punk’s ability to be co-opted and often (mis)appropriated by the pedestrian elements of the music industry. All this aside, and if we stretch that Weezer comparison even further now, ‘Cody’ finds Joyce Manor performing their own version of ‘Pinkerton’: a collection of dark, sometimes abrasive pop songs, complemented by bursts of punk, indie, and alternative rock, which take a self-reflexive at what it means to grow older.
Continuing the California group’s penchant for pop experimentation, ‘Cody’ sports the driving midsection and summertime, road-trip chorus of ‘Make Me Dumb’, the all-too-brief, plaintive ode to addiction and recovery that is ‘Do You Really Want To Not Get Better?’, along side the standout, indie-punk crescendos of album highlight ‘Eighteen’. There are also moments on this record where Johnson’s croon collides perfectly with his sardonic wit, to deliver lines that cut right to the pre-millennial core: like “How come nothing amazes me?/I don’t know,” on the stomping rhythms of ‘Angel In The Snow’. Or when he successfully channels his inner Rivers Cuomo with “I’m 26 and I still live with my parents/Oh, I can’t do laundry/Christ, I can’t do dishes/What would I do without you?” on the blissful, lover/stalker banger ‘Stairs’. And it’s much to Joyce Manor’s credit, that these brief glimpses of levity and emotional honesty never come at the expense of a good tune. Even the aforementioned reflection on a lost friend in ‘Fake I.D.’ is preceded by a hilarious, overly-sarcastic summary of Kanye West’s self-appointed genius. No, seriously.
As a bunch of dudes in their 20’s, soon to be a bunch of dudes in their 30’s, Joyce Manor are painfully self-aware of their position in life and thankfully use this to their advantage to deliver another batch of infectious, coming-of-age anthems. The songwriting here isn’t always perfect, however with only ten tracks and a total runtime just shy of 26 minutes, it’s earnest and self-aware enough to simultaneously understand and negate the desire to be something it’s not. There are songs on ‘Cody’ that speak to almost every incarnation of Joyce Manor: reaching right back to their early EP’s and splits in the previous decade, while also moving confidently towards future live sets and newfound fans.
- Fake I.D.
- Angel In The Snow
- Do You Really Want To Not Get Better?
- Last You Heard Of Me
- Make Me Dumb
- Over Before It Began
- Reversing Machine
- This Song Is A Mess But So Am I
‘Cody’ is out now through Epitaph Records, and can be streamed in full right here.