Joyce Manor’s ‘Million Dollars to Kill Me’ dips into maturity with spotty results

New record reflects band’s willingness to move away from the punk / emo genre

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Joyce Manor's fifth LP, “Million Dollars to Kill Me,” is exactly what to expect from the California four-piece punk group.

Courtesy Joyce Manor

After their 2016 release, “Cody,” there was never any doubt that Joyce Manor would continue to evolve their sound to be more poppy and mainstream. Their fifth LP, “Million Dollars to Kill Me,” is exactly what to expect from the California four-piece punk group — an album that indicates a full-fledged transition similar to that of Weezer’s discography. This change in music is easy to miss considering the fact that almost all of their releases are short, sweet and energetic. Their fifth album sees the band at their most practical pop rock — but also at their most mature. Though many fans will miss the reckless and youthful style that was so incredibly addictive in their earlier music, it would be quite strange if the band did not move on from their initial teenage exuberance.

“Million Dollars to Kill Me” is a part of Joyce Manor’s process of refinement. While guitarist and vocalist Barry Johnson’s singing is still quite captivating, the band is the least scrappy and aggressive they’ve ever been on this album. In trade, they push for a more generalized indie rock sound, which could be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask. Regardless, it’s probably a compromise worth making for the future of their music. Tracks such as “Think I’m Still In Love With You” and “Friends We Met Online” have uncanny similarities to early 2000s rock. The guitar riffs are simpler, and they tend to rely on a pop-oriented catchiness that only works in a handful of cases. The last five or so tracks lack substance, resulting in the album coming to a sappy close.

For listeners who might’ve enjoyed Joyce Manor’s punk and emo origins, this album will feel disappointing. A genre like punk-emo has always capitalized on the carefree and radical aspects of youth culture, which is something that “Million Dollars to Kill Me” fails to do. While the beginning is inviting — openers “Fighting Kangaroo” and “Big Lie” have wonderfully wholesome choruses and punk grit that the band usually has to offer — the record takes a directional turn shortly after, seemingly for the worse. The album consists of just 22 minutes, but its failure to feel like a complete listening experience is off-putting. For songs that barely exceed two minutes, there is not much to grab onto aside from repetitive hooks. It’s the balance between time management and efficacy that Joyce Manor struggles to hit.

It’s necessary to point out that a listener’s overall satisfaction with “Million Dollars to Kill Me” depends on his or her taste. For fans of late Modest Mouse, Weezer and Modern Baseball, it’s likely appealing. Joyce Manor has a unique energy in their music, and it’s illustrated again in this LP. The band is growing in popularity as they sound more like a typical alt-rock band, traveling further from their original sound on their 2011 self-titled debut. Striving to mature their sound while somewhat sustaining their emo image, this is the first time where their original persona has started to disassemble.

Throughout “Million Dollars to Kill Me,” there’s a sense of sighing nostalgia. This nostalgia chronicles the process of growing up, escaping teenage emotions and immaturity and reflecting on their previous experiences in a punk and emo scene that particularly depends on youthfulness. It seems that after a decade of hopping between genre styles, Joyce Manor finally decided to strip everything down to its core, leaving the album to center firmly on Johnson's voice and words, ultimately the core resemblance across their five albums. For the most part, he rises to occasion. 

The fast guitar riffs and pop-minded song structures are the simplest of the band's career. Only time will tell if this record can live up to its predecessors, and because of its somewhat calamitous conclusion, it likely will not. Many bands that consistently produce good music recognize when it’s time to evolve in sound, but whether or not “Million Dollars to Kill Me” serves as a good transitional album for the band is up for debate.

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