April 20th, 2012 | Published in TCS Reviews
By Pete Roche
Joyce Manor’s second full-length is everything a good punk record should be: Noisy, angry, and concise.
Indeed, it takes all of twelve minutes to swallow the nine tracks comprising Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired. But it’s worth taking a bit more time to actually digest each tune.
Joyce Manor creates controlled cacophony vis-à-vis minimalist guitars (both distorted electric and trebly acoustic), rumbling bass, and juggernaut drums served together in modest portions on small plates. The Torrance, California quartet is a little bit Misfits and a dash of Descendants, but they also channel the melancholy jangle-pop of Morrissey and Johnny Marr (Smiths) and aren’t above unplugging for the occasional field trip through Violent Femmes territory. The result is an indie sound that embraces slick, uproarious rock (produced at Atomic Garden by Jack Shirley) and low-fi coffee house folk-punk with equal ardor—like a mother cradling twin sons.
Singer Barry Johnson likens the trepidation of a relationship with the awkwardness of a new pair of blades on “These Kind of Ice Skates” as Chase Knobbe’s decorative lead guitar tastefully tiptoes round the vocal. Barry insists one can’t make a mistake while wearing this particular brand, but one suspects he means a slip-up would be disastrous—not impossible. Go out in the world with your heart on your sleeve, and a little wear-and-tear is inevitable.
“Comfortable Clothes” continues the metaphor of romance-as-wardrobe, only now drummer Kurt Walcher and bassist Matt Ebert are in high gear, their muscular rhythm a high-velocity stutter behind Barry’s anguished screams. The narrator’s ex-girlfriend must’ve fit him like his favorite jeans, but now the heartbroken hero will “never be alright.”
The band throws a curve ball with “See How Tame I Can Be,” employing a drum machine and (what sounds like) synth bass to score Barry’s tale of couch-potato lethargy. “I never told you I loved you,” says his emotionally vacant avatar, “because I don’t.” Matt and Kurt enter the fray midway through the ninety-second track, their thunder shattering the automaton stupor. Yet it’s unclear whether the reticent Romeo will ever be contribute anything more to the world than watching his own reflection on TV.
The first of the album’s two acoustic numbers, “Drainage,” incorporates pretty piano (the keys being depressed one at a time, evoking raindrops) and anguished, echoey vocals that sound intimate—yet distant—as if recorded in someone’s bathroom. The other unplugged bit, closing track “I’m Always Tired,” is similarly un-glossy, production-wise, but finds Barry portraying a frustrated, alienated antihero rather than a world-suffering submissive. The strumming is urgent, and perhaps a tad too eager to reach the final second of the song’s :50 running time. But sometimes the best way to get an idea across is to blurt it out quickly and dispense with any repetition. Joyce Manor accordingly eschews formula, dropping redundant second and third verses and dispensing with bridges that don’t lead anyplace we haven’t already seen (heard) before in the song.
A cover of MTV-era “Video Killed the Radio Star” is Of All Things’ incendiary intermezzo, a bass-propelled blitzkrieg whose structure and execution bear so little resemblance to The Buggles’ bubbly dance hit one wonders why Barry and friends didn’t simply scribble some new lyrics and truly own the 2:17 track. “If I Needed You There” is another back alley beating of a song, a minute-long drubbing that showcases the band’s ability to play hard and fast without letting the wheels fly off completely.
“Bride of Usher” indulges in mild ska rhythms, with Barry and Chase using their guitars for texture and color more than anything else. “Violent Inside” would be an alt-rock hit but for its brief running time, the start-stop chords and breakneck beat underpinning the protagonist’s diminished impulse control and exacerbated temper.
The aforementioned “Always Tired” wraps things up in short order, with Barry’s sociopathic cuckold contradicting himself with tough guy talk like “I don’t wonder if she cares,” but trying admirably to reawaken his old self, the “someone I knew inside of me” whose psyche hasn’t been shattered.
Joyce Manor, with Andrew Jackson Jihad and Treasure Fleet. April 25th at the Grog Shop. $10.00. Doors at 7:30pm.