If you didn’t know that emo-punk rockers Joyce Manor are from Torrance—or, more specifically, Northern Torrance—you do now. And if you didn’t know anything else about them at all, this record will tell you everything you need to know.
Songs From Northern Torrance is the Californian four-piece’s chance at reviving old material. The band recently pulled their gritty compilation album Collection from streaming apps, upsetting punks everywhere. It contained fan favorites like the explosive “5 Beer Plan” and the eccentric “Chumped.” Joyce Manor have never been the type of band to ignore past albums, so there had to be an explanation for this. And the explanation turned this loss into a celebration: The dudes have remastered stuff from Collection, along with unreleased gems recorded between 2008 and 2010, to create Songs From Northern Torrance.
Joyce Manor’s retreat to their stripped-down punk roots on Songs From Northern Torrance after the gradual cleaning-up of their emo-pop-punk with latest records Million Dollars To Kill Me and Cody is a genius and refreshing move. The first track, “House Warning Party,” is a classic amongst the fanbase. It’s the obscure song that the annoying die-hard fan will yell at the band to perform during a set. Is it that good? No. It’s just weird. It’s peak Joyce Manor weirdness. Only they can get away with the lyrics “Yeah, your dad / he was a cop and punched me right in the head / You said ‘Fuck you, Dad! I hate you!’ and that’s just what you meant.” It’s an enigmatic love song you can imagine hearing at a skatepark. Even with all its bitterness and frustration, this song has, at its core, warm adolescent affection that hits hard because of its contrast with all the sloppy angst: “It’s true that I still love you / For how long I could never tell.”
It’s this fragmented storytelling that pushes Joyce Manor ahead. There’s charm in the vague sense of Midwest tradition: “But my grandma was a waitress / My mom was a waitress / And I am a waitress too,” which then gets twisted into the punk: “But your dad was a cop / I bet his dad was a cop / Yeah but you’re no cop you see.” Even though songwriter Barry Johnson is writing from a perspective far removed from his own, he yells convincingly and fervently, becoming a character of his own making.
It’s mostly these odd lyrics that make Songs From Northern Torrance a timeless gem. The true indie influence of groups like Guided By Voices, Cap’n Jazz, and fellow early eccentrics is showcased, and Johnson is more unhinged than ever.
“Danke Schoen” begins with audio between Johnson and another band member (“‘Go back, dude / I can’t have that in there’ / ‘Dude, I’ll cut it out. I promise’ / ‘Okay’”) It’s a folk-punk ballad with wholesome harmonies that open the song with the playful lines “My dog is shy / You were too hard to find.” This song is in contrast to the merciless punk anthem “Done Right Discount Flooring,” proving that Joyce Manor can make an idiosyncratic jam whether they’re sitting with acoustic guitars or in a full-band session with huge amps.
This compilation is pretty much split halfway through. The first five tracks are Joyce Manor indulging in lighthearted, sometimes screamy folk punk, and the last five are fuck-it-all angsty classics. “Some salty stoned night / You cut up your hair bad again,” Johnson repeats in his strained yells on “Chumped,” keeping up with the hyperspeed rhythm. The teenage wistfulness is vivid in Johnson’s wonderfully aggressive poetry: “Feeling hopeful and helpless / Talking shit all the same / Do you keep having nightmares / About the old gang?”
There are plenty of emo and pop punk bands around today, but Joyce Manor continuously emerge as the most interesting among them. They stray so far from the norm that it sparks an understandable debate about whether they’re even emo or pop punk at all. There’s nothing generic in their music, whereas most bands in their genre cling to the idea of being generic (re: Neck Deep selling t-shirts that say “Generic Pop Punk” on them). This is something Joyce Manor should take pride in; the weirdness makes them stand out. Songs From Northern Torrance is just a reminder that Joyce Manor have changed throughout the years, experimenting with sounds that are cleaner or poppier, but they’re still the same bizarre punks we loved a decade ago.
Danielle Chelosky is a New York based writer who interns at Paste and freelances for The FADER, MTV News, Consequence of Sound, and more. She’s from Long Island, goes to school in Westchester, and lingers in Brooklyn. She embarrasses herself on her Twitter @dniellechelosky.