By Lane Moore, Contributor
Key Tracks: “Big Lie”, “I’m Not the One”, “Wildflowers”
Joyce Manor have returned, and these punks have blossomed into slick and thoughtful wildflowers on their fifth LP, Million Dollars to Kill Me. With clean production to complement their newfound maturity, the band has progressed toward a sound that communicates something like “Yeah, we’re still kids at heart, but this is serious.” Barry Johnson’s lyrics exclaim themes along the lines of self-loathing, romance, misfortune and greed; however, there are moments when they fall short of the grown-up vision and subgenre-transcending instrumentation.
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Aside from these factors, Million Dollars to Kill Me features the Joyce Manor essentials: exciting guitar riffs, soaring melodies and unforgettable hooks. Resisting the urge to sing along is a challenge as Johnson chants catchy lyrics like “And even though it isn’t true / I think I’m still in love with you” and “Nobody tells you it hurts to be loved”. Yet, there are instances in which the verse/hook/riff/repeat format becomes stale. If this record were a suit of armor, its weak points would be found in the occasions in which its repetitive nature becomes apparent and the lyrics leave listeners wanting more. “Up the Punx” and “Gone Tomorrow” are the best examples of this shortcoming, as they grow tiresome due to their too familiar structure and lyrical content.
Those songs being exceptions, the band’s lyrical content shines, and fascinating musical ideas often make up for any vocal shortcomings. In particular, “I’m Not the One” is a shooting star. It sounds like The Get Up Kids had a child with Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties and that child sang a melancholy jam about self-actualization and greed. It features twinkly acoustic picking and glockenspiel over steady rhythm guitar, tender drums and strings. Johnson solemnly remarks “Trying to decide who is good / And who’s just poor, whoa / Baby when we die, yeah, we’re all gonna want some more.” This is the type of pensivity that makes Million Dollars to Kill Me enriching and unique.
In addition, maturity is also shown through the instrumentation and production of the record. It capitalizes on the low-end frequencies of the mix, allowing for Matt Ebert’s savory bass tones to fill the room and pave the way for the sparkling riffage of Chase Knobbe and Barry Johnson. “Big Lie” and “Million Dollars to Kill Me” are perfect examples of this new modus operandi with their delay and reverb-heavy guitar riffs and dynamic drum rhythms. Conversely, “Silly Games” is a dancy comma within the sentence that is Million Dollars to Kill Me, and “Wildflowers” is the upbeat song of reverence that serves as the albums period (or exclamation point).
Joyce Manor has achieved maturity without pretentiousness. Their new sound reaches toward subgenres such as shoegaze, pop-punk and indie, but they have not forgotten the hooks, harmonies, pizza and pick slides that brought them to where they are. Like their breakthrough, Never Hungover Again, this record is a short one, but it is 22 minutes you will not forget.