Joyce Manor - Million Dollars To Kill Me - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Joyce Manor - Million Dollars To Kill Me

by Howard Scott Rating:9 Release Date:2018-09-21
Joyce Manor - Million Dollars To Kill Me
Joyce Manor - Million Dollars To Kill Me

There are a lot of dreaded M-words in the music business. Of course, there is the big one: Money. Everyone wants to get paid for their efforts, and its kind of a necessity if you enjoy eating and being warm.

Then, there is Monogamy ( or the even scarier, Matrimony!). For touring musicians, these two concepts tend to blend with the lifestyle about as well as oil and water. It happens, but not without lots of work and dedication.

Also, there is Mainstream, which again, most musicians tend to aim for. That is where the recognition and reward live, which usually results in the money getting better and easier.

But, perhaps the most feared M-word of all is the rarely anticipated Maturation.

Maturation, either in musical style or just in life, in general, can spell the death knell for groups who started out young with a rebellious streak but are now into their thirties and finding different meanings and goals in their everyday existence. The same affliction can also inhabit their audiences. It is fun to sing and dance to “I’m nineteen, I hate my parents and the whole world sucks” when you really are nineteen, but a few years later, when you are doing the 9-5 grind and the second kid is on the way, your musical tastes have probably matured. Sleep has probably become more appealing than headbanging!

This little vignette describes the overall history of Joyce Manor. The group started out almost ten years ago as a punk-pop band that tended to lean more toward the punk side of the equation, and for the first three albums, that stayed rather static. With their fourth release “Cody”, the more refined and matured pop sounds started to creep in. “Cody” was received well in the industry, but longtime fans of the group weren’t quite as enthusiastic. Younger, fresher fans, however, started to notice the quartet and pushed the album to #75 on the Billboard charts.

The new LP by Joyce Manor, “Million Dollars To Kill Me” (September 21 on Epitaph Records) eases along the maturation process some more and results in ten tracks of highly listenable rock with just a pinch or two of a punk flavoring added in. I personally wouldn’t call it pop music. Pop music, in my humble opinion, is mostly throwaway and very temporary in today’s world, and there isn’t a throwaway song on this album.

“Fighting Kangaroo” opens up the recording with a very melodic, punchy, short and sweet tune that wets the tastebuds for the main courses. Lead singer Barry Johnson has that deep, echoey anarchistic sound that gives everything he sings a raucous feel, but the clarity of the vocals and the quality of the lyrics add a refinement most punk never manages to find, or sometimes even go looking for.

  The guitar duo of Johnson and Chase Knobbe tear up the atmosphere on “Think I’m Still In Love With You”. The two play off of each other very well and give the music a melancholy, but slightly vicious sound at the same time.

The acoustic side of Joyce Manor emerges on “I’m Not The One”. Over half of the less-than-three-minute song is strictly vocals and acoustic picking and shows a different identity of the band. Even the loudest players want to dial it down once in a while, and this song does a masterful job of showcasing that capability.

“Big Lie” is a tour-de-force with the rhythm section supplying the sound for the verses and the twangy guitars kicking in to form the choruses. Pat Ware’s pounding and the bass strumming of Matt Ebert is first rate here and give the anthem a different kind of spine that really blends well with the vocals.

The album’s title song: “Million Dollars To Kill Me”, is just top notch in all facets. The distortion-heavy guitars, pounding backbeat, bass thumping, and well-crafted lyrics mix with Johnson’s wailing to create a virtually perfect rock song, circa 2018. My favorite lyric; “She’s the only one/ who can take you to a pawn shop / and sell you for twice what you’re worth.” tells the story that no matter what a complete jerk you may be to the rest of the world, there will be one girl out there who thinks you are great. Talk about a statement of hope!  Great stuff.

“Silly Games” gives the listener a taste of the Torrance, California origins of the band. It is very west-coast with a laid-back aura, ooo-ahhh background vocals and even a resplendent glockenspiel, which has been mentioned as a first on a Joyce Manor compilation.

The punky feel seeps in a bit on “Friends We Met Online” and the 93 seconds long “Up The Punks”.  Showing my rapidly advancing age, I thought of “Up The Punks” as an example of what it would have sounded like if the mid-60’s Hollies had decided to go full punk on “Bus Stop”!  I'm guessing that probably no one else on the planet will think that, but consider it a good thing! It's a fun little tune that scales up and back pretty quickly and keeps you guessing.

JM goes orchestral for the opening of “Gone Tomorrow”, which then blends into a strong chorus of “Gone Tomorrow / Here Today” lyrics that swap the ancient saying around for full effect. The opening verse of “Everybody wants to tell a story / No one’s got a thing to say. / Everybody’s scared of saying nothing / How else would they prove they’re here today?” pretty well describes the social media minefield that awaits us all in this modern world.

The closer of “Wildflowers” had its origins as a weird song with fake drums that evolved into a real song with real drums, according to Johnson, who also calls it the favorite song he has ever written. (There is that maturation coming into play again!) “It’s about how something can be so beautiful it breaks your heart” he explains. It is a joyous tune that reassures the listener that growing up doesn’t have to be feared, only respected.

Million Dollars To Kill Me was recorded in Kurt Ballou’s GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts in a camp-like atmosphere that seemed to work well for everyone involved. It was the first time the band had left the comfy confines of SoCal to record, and Ballou’s production combined with the mixing talents of Andrew Scheps (Greenday, Weezer) give the whole project a proficient texture and sound.

For bands that have the necessary talents, maturation can be a very valuable tool to have at their disposal. Joyce Manor obviously have the skills, and the process of refinement is really culminated in Million Dollars To Kill Me. This recording is enjoyable and fun to listen to, and evidence that the band members decided not to stay in one place, but to grow and take their audience with them, sometimes maybe kicking and screaming a bit, but better off for it in the end. The hooks, riffs and thought-provoking lyrics wrap around your cerebral cortex like the larvae of Ceti Alpha V (There’s one for you Trekkies out there!) and push all the right buttons in the brain. Regardless of whether you have been a fan of Joyce Manor since the beginning, discovered them around the “Cody” release or are completely new to the party, give “Million Dollars To Kill Me” a non-prejudicial listen. It will be time well spent.

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