Album Review: Joyce Manor
by Ava Butera
Everyone’s favorite punk gone indie-rock band, Joyce Manor, recently dropped their fifth studio album, Million Dollars to Kill Me. Just barely getting over the success of their last effort, Cody, Joyce Manor pumped out new material quite quickly, and probably the most ambitious material they’ve produced thus far.
Unlike most punk bands in the scene, Joyce Manor are often recognized and sometimes even criticized for their rather short songs. With albums clocking in just a little over 20 minutes, some may become eager for more, when in reality this concept actually seems to work in the band’s favor. In a society of people with short attention spans due to social media and online streaming, Joyce Manor proves to actually be one of the most current bands with the concept of short albums, acting almost as a predecessor for bands to come.
Forming in 2008 and releasing their first official work in 2012, Joyce Manor originally began as a very punk and obviously DIY effort featuring a young Barry Johnson harshly screaming on the opening track, “Constant Nothing” from Collection. Whereas when listeners press play on the first song, “Fighting Kangaroo”, on Million Dollars to Kill Me, we see Johnson singing effortlessly and with much more tailored vocals. To say the band has curated their craft greatly within the past six years would be a huge understatement.
Although listeners can notice a gradual progression from heavy DIY influences to well-produced musicianship just by simply listening to Joyce Manor’s albums in sequential order, Million Dollars to Kill Me shows the band more vulnerable and more mature than what we’ve seen previously. I haven’t even started to digress my thoughts about the album and I’m already making bold statements such as saying that Million Dollars to Kill Me is hands-down Joyce Manor’s best album to date -- seriously.
When I saw Joyce Manor, almost exactly a year ago, they played “Million Dollars to Kill Me” and announced that it was in fact a new track. Since I had been kind of outgrowing the heavier music that I once played in rotation as a young adult, I was thoroughly astonished by such a mellow track from the band. To my surprise, nobody who attended Joyce Manor’s tour prior to me had recorded the track and uploaded it online. I was therefore left desperate in my search to listen to it once more for a year. Then in July, Joyce Manor -- who seemed to have become rather inactive on social media -- dropped the song, as well as a pre-order for an album with the same title. Once I finally had the studio version within my grasp, I definitely outplayed the song for the duration of the summer.
Then as I was about to retire “Million Dollars to Kill Me” in order to savor the song instead of outplaying it, Joyce Manor dropped the second single from the record, “Think I’m Still In Love With You.” I assumed the mellow mature of “Million Dollars to Kill Me” was just a one-off thing the band was experimenting with. But I was almost shocked to find myself absolutely enthralled with the new sound the band was turning out. Johnson has honestly never sounded better on a Joyce Manor record and I can finally hear all instruments being played harmoniously -- as opposed to the old punk way of playing everything at the same volume at the same time. Now don’t get me wrong, I still adore Joyce Manor’s super early stuff. I still cherish songs like “Heart Tattoo”, “Catalina Fight Song”, and “Comfortable Clothes”, to name a few. But I feel like the sound produced from A Million Dollars to Kill Me works better for the band.
Tracks such as “Big Lie”, “Silly Games”, and “Friends We Met Online”, are all great transitions from the beginning to the end of the album. Although upbeat and fun, they’re still much mellower than what listeners would expect from Joyce Manor. However, the song “I’m Not The One” really sticks out the most to me when picking apart A Million Dollars to Kill Me in that it’s a full acoustic song from Joyce Manor. If you told me three years ago that Joyce Manor would place an acoustic track on an album of theirs, I’d tell you it was preposterous. However, it really works to the band’s advantage. Johnson is seen much more vulnerable than ever, presenting listeners with some of his best lyrical content to date, content much deeper and current than ever before. According to an article I read on Stereogum, the lyrics behind “I’m Not The One” were “prompted by Johnson’s musings over “Rich people wanting to be good people” — Elon Musk, the USC Jimmy Iovine, and Andre Young Academy, etc. — but it puts his own peers on trial.”
The album closes with the track, “Wildflowers”, featuring an energetic yet effervescent riff from guitarist, Chase Knobbe, and is accompanied by delicate vocals from Johnson. As opposed to ending with a bang or an in-your-face track like the band has in the past, the decision to end with a subdued track like “Wildflowers” is one I truly applaud. I feel as though it closes the new chapter of Joyce Manor quite well.
I recommend fans of all sub-genres on the alternative music spectrum to check out the masterpiece known as A Million Dollars to Kill Me!! Joyce Manor has broadened their sound, which in turn, will definitely bring in tons of new fans. Although I cannot speak from personal experience, the Joyce Manor guys seem amazing and they really do care about the music. Please go support these guys! Go out and catch them on their fall tour! Stream their new album! Buy some of their merch! We need more bands like Joyce Manor in the industry!