Three albums in and Joyce Manor has just enough material to put out what would be a proper release for any other band. Since their 2011 self-titled debut, the California emo-punk band has consistently produced songs that are both emotionally powerful and remarkably brief. With their latest LP, Never Hungover Again, little has changed.
Clocking in at just 19 minutes, Never Hungover Again has almost no choice but to be succinct, which Joyce Manor manages expertly. And while it’s certainly astounding that they’ve managed to pack so much into songs so short, it’s easy to see how they pull it off: each track is stripped of most non-essential elements—bridges, intros, guitar solos—and whatever’s left is stuffed with as many lyrics as possible.
As is appropriate for their first Epitaph Records release, there’s a lot more three-chord punk this time around, but, surprisingly, a lot less yelling. Perhaps it’s a sign of the band’s growth—or simply waking up one too many mornings without a voice—but frontman Barry Johnson seems a lot less inclined to holler and audibly run out of breath on Never Hungover Again. The effect is definitely one that makes this album feel a bit less chaotic and ramshackle and a bit more mature than Joyce Manor’s first two albums.
Throughout most of Never Hungover Again, the band cycles between gentler, sentimental songs like the exceptional “Schley” and full-on, pogo-inducing pop-punk. And even though their more energetic songs often rely heavily on the genre’s cliches, like the pop-punk-about-girl-troubles number “Victoria”, they’re far from a disappointment. In fact, even at its most played-out moments, Never Hungover Again never stops being fun. Songs like “Catalina Fight Song”, while not particularly deep or unique, inspire an undeniable urge to dance like you’re at a sweaty basement show, which really is all a good punk song needs.
And while the lyrics sometimes feel especially corny, like in “Heated Swimming Pool” when Johnson nasally yells, “I wish you would’ve died in high school/so you could have been somebody’s idol,” truly bad moments are few and far in between. Moreover, the better moments of Never Hungover Again are probably the best Joyce Manor’s ever sounded, thanks to their infectious melodies, shout-along choruses, and even the occasional profound lyric.
In “Heart Tattoo”, for example, Johnson sings what could easily be interpreted as the anthem of the modern emo movement: “I know that it looks bad, but it’s the only one I have/what do you want me to say? It’s never going away, my heart tattoo.” While it isn’t entirely explicit, “Heart Tattoo” is arguably Joyce Manor at their most self-reflective, as they seem to recognize that they’re not the most self-important band in the world, but at the same time contend that it doesn’t make their music any less valid and meaningful.