Joyce Manor's Mature Reflection: "Million Dollars to Kill Me"

by Emily Bunn

On September 21, 2018, Joyce Manor released their fifth full-length effort, Million Dollars to Kill Me with Epitaph Records. This album was produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou. Million Dollars to Kill Me came to life at Ballou’s own GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts. Certainly Joyce Manor’s most tame release, Million Dollars To Kill Me shows the maturation of the entire band, both lyrically and instrumentally. As always, Joyce Manor remains peppy and punky, while packing a powerful punch into their very short songs.

While Joyce Manor’s prior release Cody (2016) had more of a youthful vibe, Million Dollars to Kill Me looks into life after adolescence. Just as the title of the album would suggest, money is a recurring theme throughout the album. A lot less punky and fast-paced than earlier releases like “Never Hungover Again” (2014) or their self-titled album (2011), Million Dollars to Kill Me is more reminiscent of Cody. If anything, it is even more mellow and melodic, but decidedly not boring. Some of the songs off of it, like “Gone Tomorrow”, even veer into evoking the shoegaze subgenre. This dream-pop atmosphere is something many bands are turning to lately with the popularity of bands like Turnover, Teenage Wrist and of course, Slowdive.

Some highlights off of the album are “Wildflowers”, “Up The Punx”, “I’m Not The One”, and “Million Dollars To Kill Me” (so, almost half the album because it is truly just that good). Starting with the third track on the album, “I’m Not The One” is one of the most melodic tracks on the album that proposes a narrative about finding love, navigating finances, and the truth. The lyrics throughout the album seem to almost rhyme continually and very cleverly, but songwriter and vocalist Barry showcases that skill the best on this track. Combining struggles of navigating class and romance with more adolescent, niche hot-takes on these issues. For instance, in “I’m Not The One”’s bridge, Barry yells:

Dog at the door who’s the king of hardcore, 'cause he’s always been/Booking the shows/where they sell the most clothes 'cause they’re so limited.

The title track off the album, “Million Dollars To Kill” has an incredibly catchy chorus that reveals even that of “Fake ID” (off of Cody). The guitars pick up as Barry decares:

She’s the only one who can take you to the pawn shop and sell you for twice what you’re worth/Nobody tells you it hurts to be loved.

Following the rocking chorus is an angsty, aggressive bridge. When seeing a Joyce Manor concert only two days after the album’s release, the crowd already knew the words and sang along:

One day you will realize/You are nothing, nothing without her/You’re an asshole from a bar/ on a break in a breakroom/and you’re never happy!

Next, “Up The Punx” begins with an intro that's highly reminiscent of a Tiny Moving Parts song off Swell. “Up The Punx” combines fun, abstractive lyrics like

Broke-a-hontas, orange eating/Talk like that, now watch who's screaming

These are reminiscent of the same fun vibe “Ashtray Petting Zoo”, with a harmonic and syncopated instrumentation, especially emphasizes by Pat Ware, on the drums. Despite how energetic the track sounds, however, the lyrics seem melancholic and hollow as Barry yells out asking:

Is anybody out there?/Is anybody out there this time?

“Wildflowers” is the slowest and dreamiest song off the album. The track starts with a catchy, upbeat guitar riff unto which vocalist Barry angelically interludes

sunshine coming in through/the open window/of my bedroom.

This track is the last song off the album and ends it on an optimistic note. “Million Dollars To Kill Me” is a fantastic release that shows how much the band has matured and learned to ace somewhat slower, less in your face songs that provide just as much fun and vitality now in a more reflective, twinklier composition.

WECB GMComment