Joyce Manor broke out on the strength of a blisteringly catchy debut album that had basically crossed enemy lines. The band was held in high regard both by fresh-faced, college-age music fans flocking to the band’s emotionally ragged lyrics as well as by the bearded, beer-swilling Peter Pans whose annual holiday weekend falls right around whenever The Fest kicks off. But Joyce Manor was, and continues to be, a band far bolder than its peers in either scene. From the new wave and lo-fi tendencies of its sophomore album (which they quickly left in the dust by punking out the songs live) to the divisive stance it took on stage-diving at shows, Joyce Manor was cut from a different cloth.
No doubt its second full-length for gigantic indie Epitaph Records and fourth overall would feature subtle musical risks and less aggression after the amplified and somewhat settled-in sound they forged on 2014’s Never Hungover Again, especially that record’s mid-tempo first half. Given the band’s range of obscure DIY punk influences, it’d be hard not to deem the laid-back, pub-rock, pop-punk flavor of opener “Fake I.D.” as a nod to prolific Midwestern act Tenement. “Make Me Dumb” opens with the biggest and perhaps most minor-key guitar riff its ever laid down, though it’s hastily abandoned for an upbeat tale of warm nostalgia.
Following “Fake I.D.,” though, is where the overarching themes emerge. The band checks into the perspective of a slightly beat-up, downtrodden character on “Eighteen,” picking up from “Fake I.D.” and digging into the concerns of young adults. It’s a demographic the majority of Joyce Manor’s fan base falls into, sure, but the band manages to home in on familiar characteristics—confusion, heartbreak, discovery, selfishness, and apathy—even as its members enter their 30s.
It’s interesting to witness vocalist-guitarist Barry Johnson grapple with where he—or the narrator he inhabits—lands on these topics. On “Last You Heard Of Me,” he mentions a friend “going to the parking lot to smoke some weed.” He’d go, but he doesn’t touch the stuff unless he wants to go to sleep. During the quick, Tigers Jaw-esque acoustic ballad “Do You Really Want To Not Get Better?” he’s basically just begging the title’s question, though whether the monologue is internal or external is a tough guess. “Reversing Machine” shows that Johnson is self-aware of this backwards aging: “In the autumn leaves, high on LSD, here comes the campus security to take that away from me / I want to see for myself / I want to see what it means / But I can’t ’cause I’m stuck in a reversing machine.”
By the end of Cody, there’s really no resolve. In fact, things have kind of gotten worse. There’s a self-effacing couplet on the twinkling bridge of penultimate song “Stairs”—“Oh, I can’t do laundry, Christ I can’t do dishes, what do I do without you?”—that, dressed in this atmosphere, comes off as an instant hook. The next track, the closer, is plainly titled “This Song Is A Mess But So Am I.”
Cody is a clear exploration of the faults and flaws in young adulthood and the struggle to move past them. Is this all that different from Joyce Manor’s earlier material? Not necessarily, and the characters it speaks of may be forever locked in that struggle. But its musical pastiche of classic and underground punk continues to develop through understated alterations. Cody shows the band hasn’t run out of good ideas, even when its subjects still seem to have no idea what they’re doing.