As a music journalist, I’ve learned that new albums from your favorite artists are dangerous territory. I always feel excited, full of anticipation, ready to listen and go back in time. That anticipation brings with it all kinds of excited pressure. And then I listen to an album, and, well, sometimes it’s absolutely nothing like I thought it would be.
When I got the opportunity to review Joyce Manor’s Million Dollars to Kill Me, I went on a two-day binge of some older favorites by the guys, namely 2013’s S/T and 2014’s Never Hungover Again. Ultimately, I went into this album both open-minded and optimistic. The heavier punk sound Joyce Manor has become notorious for has mellowed a little bit with this new release, but the guys haven’t strayed too far. Million Dollars to Kill Me tells stories of friendship, loving, leaving, and loneliness.
The intro song, titled “Fighting Kangaroo,” starts strong, with guitarists Matt Ebort and Chase Knobbe taking the lead right from the get-go and Barry Johnson’s vocals following. Drummer Pat Ware’s shredding on the drums is an obvious crucial part of this album right from the beginning; without it, this would be straying into more of an indie sound, rather than the expected punk-rock vibes. Sometimes the drummers gets overlooked, but it’s literally impossible not to notice Ware throughout Million Dollars to Kill Me, and I really appreciate that. The lyrics of this first track give a lot to look forward to, being honest and a little heartbreaking: “And is it true you knew I’d miss you? / Back when we were little kids / Before we had the sense to give / You know you weren’t very wrong.”
Track number three, “Big Lie,” is a personal favorite, with the guitars letting Johnson take a bit of the lead as he cries out a story about feeling alone. “Seven-thirty in the morning / Feeling stoned in the glow of a street light / Sound of car doors gently closing / Baby, I’ve been lonely my whole life.” Bassist Matt Ebert was also a high point of this one; every chord he strums aches a little, providing an eerie feeling to a song that is sure to leave listeners feeling a bit hollow inside.
The last track wrapping up Million Dollars to Kill Me is “Wildflowers.” I hate to say it, but this one wasn’t for me… I don’t think… I’m a little confused, okay?! I absolutely love the lyrics to this one, oddly poetic and calming and beautiful. “Sunshine coming in through the open window of my bedroom / Wildflowers at the side of the road caught my eye and turned my heart to stone / Hey man, are you okay? That was all I heard somebody say / Wildflowers, I am shot with a song, totally devastated for so long / Wildflowers, I am caught in a dream, Why are we still pretending to believe?”
I love Joyce Manor, but they aren’t the most poetic or tranquil group of performers. In this song, however, the guys paint a picture of a peaceful moment in time, and they capture it oh so well. The execution on “Wildflowers” could have been done another way, though, and I would probably be here for it. Johnson carries this song along in a higher, falsetto pitch backed by a light instrumental from the rest of the band… Yet I still feel as though it’s missing something. There’s a little guitar solo before the outro that is absolutely lovely, but, for me, the rest of this song missed the mark.
Million Dollars to Kill Me is a step in a new direction, bringing in different elements from each member of the band. And while I can appreciate the creativity and openness of this release, ultimately, I don’t think I will find myself going back to this album over Joyce Manor’s music from earlier on.
WORDS BY EMILY GORDON