In the early 2010s, there was a surge of indie rock bands that sounded restless and ramshackle and endearingly earnest. Much of this music came out through the label Salinas Records — bands like All Dogs, Radiator Hospital, and the early Crutchfield projects P.S. Eliot and Swearin’. Joyride! were the San Francisco outpost of that sound, combining the urgency of Bay Area pop-punk denizens Jawbreaker with some twee emotionality that drifted down from the Pacific Northwest. A lot of those early Salinas bands are no longer around, or their members got involved in different projects, and it seemed like Joyride! might have succumbed to the same fate. After releasing three full-length albums over six years, culminating with 2016’s excellent Half Moon Bay, Joyride! took a long break. They did what most bands end up doing: kept up jobs or got new ones, occasionally played in other groups, explored what life is like away from music.
But this week, Joyride! return with the first new album in six years, Miracle Question, which finds the band picking back up right where they left off. It’s warm and delightfully high-energy, and even though the songs reflect the indecisiveness that comes with not knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life, Miracle Question goes down like pure comfort food. The trio are a tight-knit unit, bouncing off each other with chiming guitars and jittery drums and lyrics that are delivered in a breathless rush. Band leader Jenna Marx is a constant and engaging presence in these songs — she talks herself through existential crises, making grand declarations and discarding them just as fast as the band follows her mile-a-minute thought patterns with excitability and thrill.
Many of Miracle Question‘s lyrical preoccupations center on feeling like an anachronism, stuck in time and wondering if you’re doing enough or being enough as you’re pulled between the comforts of somewhere familiar and the enticing possibility of somewhere new. Miracle Question most often sounds like a love letter to San Francisco, the city that the band grew up in and has managed to remain in all these years despite extreme gentrification and an out-of-control housing market.
On “Archivist,” Marx wrestles with this choice to stay in her rapidly changing home: “I can stay here or I can go/ But I can’t predict the future, I’ve tried before,” she sings. “I’m afraid of being left but I’m afraid of leaving also/ So I kept a record, it was flawless, I documented all of it.” That document includes some evocative trips down memory lane. It’s the “carousel that’s spinning in the park that we once kissed in, in the city that I’m the last one left living in.” It’s “St. Mary’s,” the local bar that “carries the same name as the hospital that you went to back in seventh grade,” where Marx once “sat in the waiting room with your dad and watched him pray.” It’s entertaining fantasies of packing up and moving to a flyover state where “we could recall the ocean fondly like an old friend who drifted away” but being enamored with a city’s history, “all shook up like the ’89 earthquake when the Giants played the A’s.”
The band manages to make a big city feel insular and lived-in, and it’s where Marx remains, haunting her hometown like a ghost and trying to maintain the relationships she still has. She opts for adventures that are decidedly small-scale. On “Emergency Broadcast System,” she finds escape in a brief joyride (hey) around town: “What if we go but we don’t go far? What if you get in my getaway car and I get you back before it gets dark?” On “In The Afterglow,” she quells her anxiety with an aimless drive: “I put some miles on that car/ When I’m feeling sad, I drive it far/ And it doesn’t matter where you are/ Don’t know where you’re going when you’re leaving or what you’re looking for.”
Marx’s voice often curls up at the end of one of her run-on sentences, leaving every song feeling like an open-ended Miracle Question. In therapy speak, the “miracle question” is an imagined future where you wake up all your problems are mysteriously solved. So the question goes: What changed? And what comes next? Sometimes the answers are simple, sometimes they’re needlessly complicated. Sometimes it just takes talking it out with some friends over 12 scrappy songs that are packed into a propulsive 28 minutes. The music that Joyride! makes isn’t necessarily flashy, but it sure is satisfying.
Miracle Question is out 4/15 via Salinas Records. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Kurt Vile’s (watch my moves)
• 50 Foot Wave’s Black Pearl
• Jewel’s Freewheelin’ Woman
• Alex G’s We’re All Going To The World’s Fair soundtrack
• Flock Of Dimes’ Head Of Roses: Phantom Limb collection
• James Krivchenia (of Big Thief)’s Blood Karaoke
• The Crystal Method’s The Trip Out
• Swedish House Mafia’s Paradise Again
• Tim Kasher’s Middling Age
• Vundabar’s Devil For The Fire
• Prince Daddy & The Hyena’s self-titled
• Leikeli47’s Shape Up
• Jerry Paper’s Free Time
• Alec Benjamin’s (Un)commentary
• Quaker Wedding’s Total Disarray
• Greyhaven’s This Bright And Beautiful World
• A Wilhelm Scream’s Lose Your Delusion
• SAVAK’s Human Error / Human Delight
• These Arms Are Snakes’ Duct Tape & Shivering Crows
• Rush’s Moving Pictures – 40th Anniversary
• Home Is Where & Record Setter’s split dissection lesson EP
• La Neve’s History Solved EP
• Mal Blum’s Ain’t It Nice EP