Joyce Manor – ‘Million Dollars To Kill Me’

By Sean Lewis

In the distant future, when the robots have finally risen and taken the land as their own, we’ll look back wistfully from our bomb shelters on our younger days spent listening to Joyce Manor.
The Californian four-piece became a defining band in punk and emo in the last decade. Their self-titled debut crashed the scene at the perfect time. Joyce Manor bridged the gap between the blossoming pop-punk, emo, and melodic hardcore scenes. Their winning combination of melody, intensity, and angst made them a memorable act in a scene with very narrow parameters.

Despite their ups and downs, Joyce Manor have produced two fully fledged modern classics. This would be their debut, and the perfection of the formula, ‘Never Hungover Again’. Their last album, ‘Cody’, proved that maturity doesn’t have to be a dirty word in the punk community, as they replaced pure punch with a more subtle, creeping melancholy. ‘Million Dollars To Kill Me’ continues down the path of self-discovery, chronicling the pitfalls of drifting unconsciously into the mundane world of adulthood.

Throughout the record, there’s a sense of sighing nostalgia. On the stream of consciousness ‘I’m Not The One’, the second verse spins a tale of a hardcore show. The promoter books “the shows where they sell the most clothes cause they’re so limited”, while the crowd is “trying to decide who’s good, and who’s just poor”. ‘Friends We Met Online’, meanwhile, is a look back at the online communities that defined the adolescence of many music nerds. Despite the song’s genuinely sweet statements about forums being “a really big part of our lives”, the song smashes the rose tinted goggles with the realisation that they’re misremembering “such sad horrible times”.

This disappointment seems to linger in the life of singer and guitarist Barry Johnson. In the song ‘Million Dollars To Kill Me’, Johnson’s reflections on a lost lover lead him to the realisation that he’s become the “asshole from a bar on a break in a break room” and he’s “never happy”.

At this point, you may be thinking that Joyce Manor are coming across as quite a bummer on ‘Million Dollars To Kill Me’, yet they are careful to balance this out with major key melodies that draw influence from everything from ’90s pop-punk to psychedelia. ‘Big Lie’ trades off its musings on loneliness with a surf inspired riff on the chorus. Meanwhile, the title track and ‘Silly Games’ are heavily indebted to the fuzzed out pop rock of Weezer’s ‘Blue Album’.

‘A Million Dollars To Kill Me’ is a natural progression of maturity for Joyce Manor. If ‘Cody’ was about leaving behind the heightened drama of youth, then this one is about settling in to the monotony of adulthood. This is the best thing about Joyce Manor: their evolution never feels like it reached a destination, leaving the band to mature along with their audience.

SEAN LEWIS

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