Joyce Manor - 40 oz. to Fresno (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Joyce Manor

40 oz. to Fresno (2022)


Cali's Joyce Manor has been a pretty divisive band over the last few years, with most diehards (I know) taking umbrage to their shift in sound. "Lazy" and "sellouts" have been some of the words thrown around, but for me, the transition's been relatively acceptable. As someone who loved their earlier work, namely the 2011 self-titled and Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, I still hold up 2014's Never Hungover Again as their gold standard. That felt like the perfect bridge between their edgy, garage-driven pop-punk and the alternative, mainstream sound they were aiming for. Interestingly, 40 oz. to Frenso does a fairly decent-enough job of coming close, but again, it's no cigar.

Now, I have to admit, Cody and their last effort, Million Dollars to Kill Me, didn't age that well. I felt like as I crossed 35, both albums lacked a certain dynamism, energy and flair the earlier records had. In this case, it's a tale of two albums with the first half of 40 oz. falling into the same category. From the opening track in "Souvenir," it felt like the band was trying to explore one of their 'longer' songs, but rather than a unique cut like The Cure-esque "Falling In Love Again", it's a pretty tame effort made for Say Anything fans. Again, not bad, but not the right pop to start the album off.

Admittedly, the poppier, twinkly vibe of "NBTSA" and "Reason To Believe" do add some momentum, but it just feels like Joyce Manor's playing it safe and looking for a comfort zone rather than be those daring teens I know. I guess, this is growing up? Anyway, a lot of this feels like it's down to a lack of an engine. Sure, there are the typical gurgly basslines, sharp punchy hooks and lead Barry Johnson crooning and falsetto-ing, but a studio drummer doesn't cut it. Tony Thaxton does well on the kit and old drummer Kurt Walcher does appear on "Secret Sisters" but it feels like Jeff Enzor or Pat Ware's drive is missing to fit in some creative continuity.

In Walcher's case, he really adds a lot to his track, which evokes the anthemic shoutalongs of old jams like "Leather Jacket" and "Constant Headache" -- which is where I think the band's strengths lie.  To that point, the second half of the album is where the heat's at. While the first felt like B-sides or stuff for an EP, the aggressive tones on "Don't Try", "Let It Go" and "Did You Ever Know" really prop the record back up and in a most powerful way. They're catchy, callbacks to the old JM, while also proving what can be done when the band evolves and fully embraces the fearless edge of Never Hungover Again

Additionally, I must commend Johnson, who like Thursday's Geoff Rickly, has come into his own vocally on this concise collection of tracks. It doesn't go over 18 minutes but the grainy production really helps Johnson shine, highlighting how well these short bursts fit his musical delivery and overall range. On that note, I'd like JM to dig into working with Will Yip, after working with Joe Reinhart, Kurt Ballou, Jack Shirley and now, Rob Schnapf as I think Yip's production would really full out the sound of these songs in particular and the overall direction I think they're angling for. 

Ultimately, it's not a bad album, but not the greatest either. Admittedly, I may have had high expectations, expecting them to write pure magic during COVID-19. Still, at this point in their career, I don't think it's outlandish to expect some more diversity and wildness, given the album's a nod to Sublime and Johnson's stoner days. Maybe some ska? Well, the good thing is JM's got time on their side, and with some more refining and a bit more cavalier exploring, I still think the best is yet to come.