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Album Review: Million Dollars To Kill Me by Joyce Manor

Joyce Manor release their new album Million Dollars To Kill Me on 21st September via Epitaph. If 2016’s Cody was about growing up, then this is about what happens next—the reckonings with love, money, doubt and confusion, and the hope that persists despite it all.

Like that stage in life, the album bridges happiness and sadness. It’s a relatable and instantly likeable album. Guitarist Chase Knobbe can somehow make a song sound sadder and tougher at the same time, says Barry Johnson, band co-founder/guitarist/vocalist, or the way Johnson mixes minor and major chords to invoke a precise kind of overpowering melancholy. (“I like when songs have a feeling of yearning,” says Johnson. “It just feels good to me. Makes you wanna cry.”) It’s even in the way the album was made because it didn’t start as a Joyce Manor album at all.

After Cody, Johnson contacted Impossibles’ guitarist/vocalist Rory Phillips— “One of my musical heroes,” he says—to produce the next Joyce Manor album. Phillips couldn’t fit the commitment between work and family, but another idea materialized: what if Johnson and Phillips made a new band together? Over email, of course, since they were thousands of miles apart? Johnson would send his half, and Phillips would send a whole song back, and it worked well. (“It was just really exciting to mail away for a song,” says Johnson.) Then it worked too well. When Johnson asked Knobbe to add some guitar—on the original “Wildflowers,” actually—he understood what was happening. What he’d thought of as “weird songs that were created with fake drums between two guys who were never in the same room with each other” were revealing themselves as the start of a new Joyce Manor record.

So, they made a new Joyce Manor record. With Knobbe, new drummer Pat Ware— “Awesome new drummer,” adds Johnson—and longtime bassist Matt Ebert, they wrote enough songs to fill a full-length, and then worked to get the ones lifted from emails to match the ones written at full volume. (“Bedroom charm versus live rock band,” Johnson explains.) Their next step was a new step: their first time recording outside their L.A. hometown, at Converge’s Kurt Ballou’s GodCity studio in Salem, Massachusetts. They recorded daily 10-to-6 so Ballou could spend dad time with his kids at night, and then slept right upstairs in bunk beds: “Kinda felt like camp,” says Johnson. “It was a pleasure—I would recommend it to anyone.”

‘Fighting Kangaroo’ has all the hallmarks of Joyce Manor, immediate and witty with a punk grit. Both ‘Big Lie’ and ‘I’m Not The One’ tone the tempo down and take a bleaker, sadder tone. Full of emotion and somehow condensing the fears and uncertainty of every person in their late twenties / early thirties. Title track ‘Million Dollars To Kill Me’ bridges the gap between the two styles before ‘Silly Games’ takes on Weezer style pop rock tone. ‘Friends We Met Online’ returns to the traditional Joyce Manor sound and balances an idyllic memory and the unpleasant present. ‘Up The Punks’ is a fantastic spikey one and a half minutes that you can’t help but love, while ‘Gone Tomorrow’ ramps up the emotion and tones down the punk – it’s delightfully airy and immediate but equally as bleak – before ‘Wildflower’ condenses the character of the album into under two minutes, as Johnson comments “It’s about how something can be so beautiful it breaks your heart.”

AD Rating 7/10

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