I mean, could you imagine? Never. Hungover. Again. Frankly, it’s a pretty cruel title, because this record’s going to make you want to drink, and not just for the typical, sad reasons you usually want to drink (well, there are a few of those in there, too), but instead because this record’s an infectious blast – plain and simple. It’s the soundtrack to the night you didn’t know you needed, a night you wake up from with a few mysterious cuts and a headache with a rare, redeeming air of “Shit, everything’s gonna be okay, isn’t it?” Every few years, a record like this comes along – a record that transcends barriers like “genre” and “audience,” transcends music, even, and becomes a feeling, distinct unto itself. What it is about these records that makes them so special is symptomatically elusive. They are infused with an indescribable charisma that leaves us all looking like morons as we try to put “it” into words. The last time I saw “it” was on The Menzinger’s On the Impossible Past, and the latest, incidentally also released by Epitaph Records, is Joyce Manor’s Never Hungover Again.
Personally, I had never loved Joyce Manor. I would call their self-titled first LP “good,” but wouldn’t call it “great,” and their follow-up, Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired was generally a miss for me. I say this because it is important to address that I am not just some Joyce Manor fanboy – this record is truly special.
In usual Joyce Manor fashion, the ten-song record clocks in just under 20 minutes, still making it their longest yet. Although the songs are by no means drastically longer than previous songs, they feel much longer in that they are far more satisfying. In an interview with AbsolutePunk.net, vocalist/guitarist Barry Johnson said that the push for longer songs “was definitely conscious. All the songs, when I first write them, they’re even shorter than they are on the record now. I think I was just pushing myself to tie things back around and make the songs more satisfying by starting in one place and ending up back there by the end of the song, which is something that I didn’t always do.” Never Hungover Again also showcases a level of variety that Joyce Manor has never displayed before (admittedly, I found much of their self-titled to blur together). The band is seemingly more willing to let their influences shine through, perhaps a result of having finally nestled into a more comfortable echelon of the music scene. In a recent interview with Noisey, the band admitted to not quite feeling at home slumped together with the (needless) “Defend Pop Punk” movement of a few years back, and that Of All Things… was perhaps a little too reactionary in turn. After taking some time off to reassess and write, the band began recording in late 2013 with Joe Reinhart from Algernon Cadwallader. The fun the band clearly had making Never Hungover Again bleeds through the speakers and is certainly part of the magic behind its sound. Johnson explained to Noisey, “Yeah, it was very fun. For a lot of it, we were pretty wasted. Four of the takes we got in a row, while we were very drunk and high. Half the record was tracked, like we did some takes and then we just tapped into something. We were kind of wasted, rocking out,” with drummer Kurt Walcher adding, “Stress level was way down on this record.” The result is a similarly low-stress listening experience, during which even moments of pure, uncut angst (of which there are several) are cleansing, not distressing. By the time Never Hungover Again’s 20 minutes is up, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to deny the urge to replay it immediately.
“Christmas Card” starts the record off with a jolt, an almost grating burst of loud, bright guitars and raw melody – the first indicator of how huge this record sounds. Sure-to-be crowd favorite “Falling in Love Again” is subtly crushing, complete with a perfectly-placed synthesizer that adds to its dramatics. It’s a relatively somber song with terribly sweet sentiments – “I think you’re funny / I like your friends / I like the way they treat you / I’ve got some money / that we could spend / not that you’re like that…” Next up, “End of the Summer” is a rolling pop song filtered through a summer haze and the way the drums and vocals pick up in its closing chorus will make it your new favorite sing-along. “Victoria” is the most upbeat, “traditionally” pop-punk song on the record, chronicling a troubled walk home after a night gone wrong, and is followed by “Schley,” a bouncy, Pixies-drenched builder strung together by a masterful bass line from Matt Ebert.
After “Schley” is “Heart Tattoo,” which may accidentally be the most punk song ever written, despite how poppy it is. Its level of simplicity is remarkable, and its tongue-in-cheek rebellious attitude (“I wanna say ‘what’s up dad?’ / who knows how you’d feel about that / what do you want me to say? / it’s never going away / my heart tattoo”) perfectly illustrates the need to retain a certain level of healthy immaturity (“Heart Tattoo” acoustic). The chorus of the next track, “The Jerk,” has maybe the most heart-string-tugging lines of the year – “Don’t say goodbye, say you’re not sure anything could ever come between the two of us, and I would say the same thing.” Following “The Jerk” is “In the Army Now” (which was also the record’s initial title), the first of two back-to-back straightforward punk songs on Never Hungover Again. “In the Army Now” finds Johnson sounding more like Morrissey than ever, and may feature the best guitar-work Joyce Manor has ever produced, with leads carrying much of the song. The second punk rollicker is “Catalina Fight Song,” which I would argue is the best song of the year, and is unlikely to be dethroned. The angst exhibited by this 1 minute and 2 second explosion will appeal directly to disaffecteds of any age with brilliant lyrics including:“There’s no way to keep in touch with certain people / you wonder how long something can last / pretty sure most people don’t think about that”, & , “Car smells like hot Gatorade / do you think because you chose to? / do you think things are different than you think they are?” The video for the song can be seen here, and I highly recommend watching it, even if it’s just the band getting schooled in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Closer “Heated Swimming Pool” is in the same vein of “End of the Summer” – a hazy pop song that wouldn’t be unwelcome in a 1980s John Hughes film. It ends the record somewhat melancholically, yet contentedly, and on a perfect note to hit replay on “Christmas Card.”
It makes no difference what kind of music you listen to, or what age you are. With Never Hungover Again, Joyce Manor has crafted not just ten songs, but ten feelings. They’re feelings you’ll recognize, and you won’t be able to put them into words, either. Musically, it may not be anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it’s infectious and timeless. Now only if we could make its title a reality…