Review Summary: If it ain't broke, don't fix it
Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places. While confined to his home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Joyce Manor frontman Barry Johnson got an interesting idea: what would happen if a scrapped song became the entire basis for a new record? This was the genesis of 40 oz. to Fresno
, an album that originated with its closer “Secret Sisters”, a tune that was initially left on the cutting room floor. And while a band using their leftovers to create a new project might draw skepticism, fear not: this is yet another fun, energetic, all-killer-no-filler blast of indie punk. In fact, compared to the group’s last few records, 40 oz. to Fresno
is a more back-to-basics affair - just a lean, mean 17-minute thrill ride. Johnson summed it up best when describing the album’s style and themes:
"This album makes me think of our early tours, drinking a 40 in the van on a night drive blasting Guided by Voices and smoking cigarettes the whole way to Fresno."
As such, you get a record that’s explosive and melodic in equal measure. The first two songs provide a nice summation of what you’ll hear on 40 oz. to Fresno
, serving to highlight the two contrasting styles on the record. On one hand, the opener “Souvenir” - a cover of the OMD song of the same name - is a sentimental midtempo jam that beautifully highlights Johnson’s overdubbed vocal harmonies; on the other hand, “NBTSA” is a fast-paced punk tune that wastes no time bursting through the speakers with raucous drumming and roaring guitars. Speaking of drums, it’s worth noting that this is the first Joyce Manor record to feature Tony Thaxton (of Motion City Soundtrack fame) behind the kit, and he absolutely nails it; you’d forget that he was simply hired as a session musician for the album, judging by his excellent chemistry with the other band members. In any case, the two aforementioned tracks provide a solid thesis statement of what 40 oz. to Fresno
serves up throughout its short-but-sweet runtime. However, this is not to say that the record is entirely predictable. “You’re Not Famous Anymore”, for example, paints a strikingly clear picture of a former child star with a drug addiction; the music itself exudes a uniquely bittersweet sound, as it constantly slides between hope and melancholy. “Secret Sisters” is also a bit of a surprise despite being the basis for the album, with the tune being drenched in excessive guitar distortion and banging out some of the heaviest riffs on the record. However, if you’ve listened to Joyce Manor’s previous work, much of 40 oz. to Fresno
is in their typical style with a few tweaks here and there. It’s short, fun, melodic, catchy-as-hell, and has great performances from the band members themselves. As the old adage goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.