The opening of Joyce Manor’s third full-length—and first for punk rock’s version of a major label, Epitaph Records—Never Hungover Again may as well be a direct challenge to its fans in the DIY scene. Though the band’s never explicitly labeled itself as such, its self-titled debut in 2011 galvanized that community, with nearly every fan of punk (in all its various permutations) standing at attention for the Torrance, Calif. four-piece. On its second album Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, the band seemed happy to throw a wrench into that formula, expanding out from its hardcore-informed pop-punk for something that recalled the classic jangle of The Smiths. Joyce Manor has gotten even less classically punk on Never Hungover Again, and the trio of tracks that open the album (“Christmas Card,” “Falling In Love Again,” and “End Of The Summer”) see vocalist Barry Johnson at his most unabashedly Morrissey, with the band working through its most meticulously calculated songs to date.
Combined, Joyce Manor’s previous two albums barely crack the half-hour mark, and with Never Hungover Again not even making it to 20 minutes, the less-is-more ethos remains ever present. For many of the songs, such as album opener “Christmas Card,” it’s as if the songs start right in the middle of a hook, making each feel familiar yet never trite. It’s not until “Victoria” that the band’s punk pedigree shines through, but it’s all to the album’s benefit. If anything, Joyce Manor has found ways to take its biting approach and transfer it to pop music, mostly eliminating its caustic nature as well as Johnson’s ragged vocals in the process.
Never Hungover Again isn’t a complete overhaul of the band’s sound, but with all the gentle twists on those charms, it ends up serving as a re-introduction. The deep melodies that were always there have been pulled to the forefront, and by the time the non-stop hook of a closer “Heated Swimming Pool” comes, it only further proves that if any punk band is primed—and, perhaps, deserving—for a mainstream breakout, it’s Joyce Manor. Even if it’s earned that designation by calmly shedding its skin.