Review Summary: Everybody wants to tell a story; Everybody's scared of saying nothing
By now, Joyce Manor has solidified their position in the punk landscape as the go-to band for some cool and simple catchy songs. All there is to say about their blurring of the line between emo and pop-punk has already been said; the choruses they write are both direct and infectious, their songs short and straight to the point yet sounding grand all the same. If I were more pessimistic, I would be saying right now that the band’s shtick could only get more boring and uninspired following the same old formula four albums in. That’s when Million Dollars To Kill Me
turns on its heels, says “hold on a minute now”, and pleasantly surprises the hell out of me for a lean 23 minutes.
Side A of this album further continues down the sound of good old 90’s power pop that the band presented with Cody
, but hones it down to the point where all (not just most) the songs flow and not feel bloated or dragged on. Opener “Fighting Kangaroo” along with singles “Million Dollars to Kill Me” and “Think I’m Still in Love With You” are the best of examples, as they come with crunchy guitar tones and sing along choruses that could get any drunk crowd going. “I’m Not The One” is an amazing track in that it’s an acoustic one that, unlike on the previous record, doesn’t break the flow of the album and actually feels fleshed out and progressed. Frontman Barry Johnson’s lyrics haven’t gotten any more profound but many lines are still humorous and poetic in their own little, special way. “Dog at the door who’s the king of hardcore because he’s always been; Booking the shows where they sell the most clothes cause they’re so limited” specifically got a chuckle out of me, due to Barry’s delivery being both a little melancholy and tongue in cheek.
Side B is where Joyce Manor decide to have a little fun and throw some curveballs our way. “Silly Games” comes out the gate sounding like an old forgotten Beach Boy or Beatles track, with Barry Johnson crooning over a pillowy melody and acoustic guitar gently backing him until the song opens up a little more. “Friends We Met Online” is a cheeky little fun track that’s reminiscent of 80’s new wave. “Gone Tomorrow” and closer “Wildflowers” are big highlights, with the former showcasing some surprisingly poignant lyrics and a massive soundscape that just steals your focus away while the latter is as direct as it gets with Barry Johnson playing around with his higher range with a bouncy and innocent melody. If Side A was the band repurposing their previous album’s sound into something more tightly written and performed, Side B is where the band really decides to open up and experiment a little more.
While Joyce Manor hasn’t gotten any rawer sounding since their previous outing, they have tightened up the song writing and planted their focus firmly in the ground. Each song feels trim and fatless, yet fleshed out and fully realized. That alone makes Million Dollars To Kill Me
a welcome surprise and improvement from the band, which as of right now can go a great number of different directions from here on out.