Album Review: Joyce Manor—’Million Dollars to Kill Me’

Posted: by The Editor

Joyce Manor have always been an in-your-face type of band. Whether in the arresting guitar lead of “Constant Headache,” the aggressive yelps in “The Jerk,” or the driving nature of their music as a whole, their past albums have made their intentions clear. However, Million Dollars to Kill Me seems to have burgeoned a whole different set of intentions, or rather a redirection of Joyce Manor’s initial energy as a band.

In their last album Cody, signs of this change peaked out from under the covers in the pop-like melodies of their song “Stairs,” and the calm, acoustic guitars of “Do You Really Want To Not Get Better?” These songs were different for Joyce Manor then, and are now, in hindsight, prophetic of where they’d end up on Million Dollars to Kill Me

More than ever, vocal melody plays an important role in Million Dollars to Kill Me, which seems different than past Joyce Manor albums. In “Big Lie,” the intro features vocalist/guitarist Barry Johnson singing over minimal instrumentation, which gives the vocals precedence in an otherwise guitar-forward band. Directly after “Big Lie,” the fourth song on the album entitled “I’m Not The One,” reiterates this emphasis on vocals. A mainly acoustic track, the song leaves more space than usual for Johnson’s voice to flourish over organs and atypical percussive instruments. This expanded instrumentation creates an atmospheric sound in some songs that’s never turned up on any of their previous projects.. This sound is also seen with the bells and ghostly vocals in “Silly Games,” and intro organ pads in “Gone Tomorrow.”

Lyrically, the songs stay true to the energy associated with the band’s past albums, but at times convey a feeling of exhaustion. Their lyrics have always had a pop-like nature to them, due to their simplistic, repetitive, and carefully crafted nature. But now the musical aspects support this more than ever. In the title track, “Million Dollars to Kill Me,”  the chorus, “She’s the only one who can take you to a pawn shop / and sell you for twice what you’re worth, conveys the grateful yet uneasy realization that this relationship is keeping Johnson “whole.” Musically, the instrumentation is slightly reserved during this chorus, once again giving room to the vocals and simply providing a necessary backbone.

While this record, like all Joyce Manor ones, is largely about relationships, it also dives into current events In a Stereogum interview from August, the song “I’m Not The One” was explained to have been prompted by “Johnson’s musings over ‘rich people wanting to be good people.’” The lyrics “About who did deserve this dirty wealth / whoa Baby when we die / yeah we’re all gonna burn in hell,are exemplary.

Overall, Million Dollars to Kill Me is a Joyce Manor record at heart. At the most basic level, it is a more expanded yet still recognizable version of the band. They’ve shown with this album and Cody that they’re capable of stretching their range without losing their identity. 

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Million Dollars to Kill Me is out now via Epitaph Records.

Ryan Bartlett | @RyanBartlett12

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