By Tanner Meadows
Artist: Joyce Manor
Album: A Million Dollars to Kill Me
Release Date: September 21, 2018
As word of their frenetic energy and turbulent house shows found its way out of Californian basements and onto the internet, pop-punk powerhouse Joyce Manor has continued to resonate with a young and steadily growing fanbase. In addition, every album they put out (prior to their latest) has had a distinct sense of direction. Beginning with the vibrant and raw sound of Collection, every release since then has been an answer to the preceding record. The group’s sound has continued to shift and change, their 2016 album, Cody, being their sonic pinnacle. One has to ask, if Cody is their “grow-up” album, so to speak, where does the band go from there?
Joyce Manor has reached a place as a band that not many others do. They continue to draw in a crowd from the same demographic of young people they always have, and evidently continue to release great music. This is why when I say that A Million Dollars to Kill Me is another Joyce Manor album, it’s more a compliment than a criticism.
The overall feel and production quality is very similar to that of Cody, but it’s not too similar to their past work. A Million Dollars to Kill Me is also noticeably lighter overall, a direction change from their last album and a stark contrast from some of their earlier, more raw material. Opting more for pop than punk and leaning heavily on their indie rock side, the sixth track, “Silly Games,” features a low, buzzy rhythm guitar that creates a background for what must be some of the softest vocals frontman Barry Johnson has ever sung. There are unprecedented levels of calmness in comparison to other Joyce Manor records. The last track, “Wild Flowers,” borders on Turnover territory with how airy it feels.
That isn’t to say Joyce Manor has gone soft. The erratic energy is still there, but it feels more refined, in line with the history of the band and how their sound has progressed over time. Tracks like “Think I’m Still in Love With You” and “Big Lie” keep up the tradition of catchy choruses and lively instrumentation. Another standout track, “Friends We Met Online,” may be one of the first songs to be so explicit in its recognition of how we socialize in this postmodern age. There is something resonant in the lyric, “You and I were members of the same online community, I know that it sounds kind of lame when said out loud.”
All in all, the addition of A Million Dollars to Kill Me to their discography is just the latest greatness to come from Joyce Manor. For a band required to be attentive to the reaction of every one of their releases, reaching a level of consistency in quality that affords the group time to relax is an impressive achievement.
You can catch Joyce Manor, along with Jeff Rosenstock and Remember Sports, playing at Mohawk in Austin on Jan. 23, 2019.