Joyce Manor resurrects their emotions in Songs from Northern Torrance

Courtesy of Epitaph Records. 

Courtesy of Epitaph Records. 

Punk bands usually have the toughest critics. And those critics usually turn out to be their biggest admirers. “Punk,” a very loose term that could characterize just about anything, tends to pride itself on its reputation of lyrical honesty and elementary musical ability. People become devoted to these bands, dedicating their time, energy and hard work to this music that seems to mirror their own difficulties and perspectives. As much as the fans hope for the band to become rich and successful, some people don’t think bands should achieve that goal. This smaller section likes to critique the band when they become more widely known or when their sound evolves from what they initially sounded like, a natural progression for any group. 

Joyce Manor is no exception. Starting in 2008 in Torrance, California, Joyce Manor has been a staple of the more recent punk/emo revival scene that began around that time. Taking cues from the midwest emo scene of the later ‘90s, as well as the history of punk rock from that period, current bands usually seem to fall on the more math-rock emo side of pop-punk. Joyce Manor keeps it in the punk lane and floors it through.

But, their 2018 album, Million Dollars to Kill Me, was met with the cries of “selling out” or “changing” by both their fans and critics. While I wasn’t as keen on the album compared to their previous ones, I’m still annoyed by those who hold bands to a specific standard or level of success on purely selfish intentions. Everybody has different goals, and everybody wants to put food on the table. 

Regardless of that, Joyce Manor pressed on and their most recent release, Songs From Northern Torrance, is fantastic. It isn’t anything new from the California quartet, as it is an album of re-recorded material, but sonically it echoes their first releases and provides an intimate experience for those of us on withdrawal from sweaty crowds and smokey rooms of performance. 

The album immediately explodes with “House Warning Party,” an obscure early track from their 2009 album Collection. It sounds like it was recorded on a computer or DIY recording set-up.  The drums sound compressed and melted into the sound of the chugging acoustic guitar. On a technical spectrum, it’s not great. However, it’s compelling and sounds like something your friends in a band down the street would record. It encapsulates their emotions, how they describe them in the lyrics and how they actually feel in the chest with the instrumentation. It’s a  short, raw spark plug of a song that is over before you know it and a great kickoff to the album.

The album doesn’t slow at any point, blaring down the rails like a runaway subway car. This actually enhances the record since most of the songs they’re revitalizing are from when the group was an acoustic duo. A couple of songs were also picked from their Pancake EP and two were deep cuts from their 2013 self-titled album

The next song that really caught my attention was “Danke Schoen.” Along with having very little information surrounding its original release, the lyrics were compelling. Not the most compelling use of words I’ve ever listened to, but more of a coarse, heated expression of disappointment. The group plays a little slower on this one, keeping it dragging along, having a group sing-along about their collective dissatisfaction. The second verse of the brief track is probably my favorite lyrics of the song.

And my danke schoen/Won’t stand the test of time/Don’t look to me to find/ What’s always on your mind/And my song for you/Is as blind as you too/Oh, no point hanging ’round/Our love has left me out.”

Joyce Manor blasts through the next tracks, all of which are fantastic, but the song at the very end of the record made me nervous. “Leather Jacket,” a song off their self-titled album, is my favorite song of theirs. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having that one song that I grow around almost enmesh with my own DNA due to how much I love it. That song is usually then recycled by the band once they get a higher budget, which flattens it and transforms it into something I don’t recognize. 

Joyce Manor, praise the lord, broke that cycle. While they didn’t try to improve on or shape the song into anything indistinguishable, the instrumentation sounds more fleshed out yet keeps coarse and intense feelings. They’re equal with each other and both of them are killer condemnations of someone who’s changing into something artificial. It’s a great kiss-off that packs a hard punch with its heavy bassline and in your face drums. The updated version sounds more like the band live, with the instruments crowding your senses and becoming the only thing your ears can hear and your heart can feel. 

Songs From Northern Torrance, like many punk albums, is succinct and emotional. While it isn’t anything new, it does refresh the previous material with new sound production that either fleshes out old tunes or keeps them raw and a bit flat. It’s also a great album that sounds so live, literally and lyric-wise, that it can provide a stay-at-home concert for those missing the mosh pits, crowd-surfing and smokey atmospheres of punk shows.

Contact Grace-Marie Burton at [email protected]