Joyce Manor are part of a scene not usually known for longevity, nor reliability of releases. Punk has a habit of operating in bursts, which – setting economic factors aside – is a good thing. Bands should last as long as they need to, and sometimes the boldest creativity is one influential EP, sometimes it lasts for decades. Records become obsessions, then they drift and fade and return to us when we need them. We can let things die. We can allow them to be revived.
Yet, Million Dollars To Kill Me is Joyce Manor’s fifth full-length in seven years. And granted, their version of a full-length rarely exceeds 20 minutes – a no-bullshit approach that remains central to the band’s charm – but their vigour doesn’t seem to be fading. They have released consistently great records, and this might genuinely be their best. I can’t say for sure, because its completeness made me appreciate their entire back catalogue more.
It’s a wonderful irony that my favourite record of 2018 had me listening to 2012’s Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired with more understanding than I had at the time of its release. I found myself thinking about the transition of watching them play a slightly dank Leicester pub to 20 people compared with watching them headline Boston’s Royale this summer and how they still belong in both of those spaces, their DIY roots healthy underneath the shine.
Million Dollars To Kill Me brings the band full circle; encapsulating their 2011 self-titled album, a hurricane of chaotic, catchy punk, to the more indie and pop-influenced post-Never Hungover Again material. Plucky openers ‘Fighting Kangaroo’ and ‘Think I’m Still In Love With You’ are the perfect marriage of punk and pop, with an effortless flair that continues to separate them from pop-punk as a genre.
‘Big Lie’ is the successor to ‘Constant Headache’, replacing the sweet naivety of a one night stand with more weighty promises (“If you were aimless, I’d be what you were aiming for / If you get anxious, I’ll put on Law and Order for you”) but with the same longing (“Baby, I’ve been lonely my whole life”) that places it amongst their best tracks.
The softer moments on the record (‘I’m Not The One’, ‘Silly Games’) are perforated with moments of wit, bringing the character of their more instant songs along with them in ways they haven’t before. Barry Johnson’s earnest, heart-on-sleeve lyricism makes it hard not to smile at ‘Friends We Met Online’. Maybe singing about your extremely online mates isn’t the coolest, but awkward punks are Joyce Manor’s bread-and-butter, so it lands joyously.
‘Up The Punx’ follows a similar theme; the line “Up the punx, I feel so freakish” a tongue-in-cheek shout to the outsiders. Closer ‘Wildflowers’ feels like an outlier in both the album and their back catalogue as a whole. The lightness of the opening guitars matched with the sadness in the lyrics sets up something that should be a bit disorientating but works perfectly, ending on a reflective note that concludes very little but satisfies nonetheless.
Joyce Manor could’ve released one record, their debut full-length, and gone down in history for it. Fans are still incredibly loyal to their early material – I had never seen a crowd lose their shit more than when they closed a show on ‘Leather Jacket’ – but remarkably not at the expense of the many guises and variations the band has taken on since. Their ability to take everything that makes their sound so distinctive, and reinvent it with each record, has been the key to their longevity. And long may it reign.
- Joyce Manor – Million Dollars To Kill Me
- Kississippi – Sunset Blush
- Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
- Snail Mail – Lush
- Jeff Rosenstock – POST-
- The Carters – Everything Is Love
- Forth Wanderers – S/T
- Kermes – We Choose Pretty Names
- Nervus – Everything Dies
- Death Cab For Cutie – Thank You For Today