Music Reviews
Million Dollars to Kill Me

Joyce Manor Million Dollars to Kill Me

(Epitaph) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Far past their initial maturation, Joyce Manor continue to get treated as if they're in a perpetual teenage state. For a stretch of five albums, the Torrance, California four-piece have long taken ownership of their airtight guitar pop, more in pursuit of honing a musical approach that suits them rather than searching for some fictitious denomination of aging gracefully. It's something of a curse that tends to follow bands who sound eternally youthful, locked into what resonates with them.

Which is to say that Million Dollars to Kill Me is pleasingly lean and concise, an unsurprising description considering Joyce Manor have never made an album that goes past twenty-five minutes in length. What has changed is how they've drastically toned down their fitful outbursts, even if they still have a knack for sentimental platitudes. Efficient, hook-driven anthems like Fighting Kangaroo and the title track are reliably compact and focused, both sugar-lumped rockers which bring to mind Weezer during their Green album phase. Lead singer Barry Johnson's pleas ring with empathy, although they can sometimes leave a saccharine aftertaste.

That's not to say that Joyce Manor is falling into a place of stagnation. If Cody, their last release, was their chance at writing a more traditional power-pop record in an attempt to conceal their reputation as emo loyalists, then Million Dollars to Kill Me comes back to that phase but with a more balanced perspective. When that chugging, jubilant riff kicks in on Friends We Met Online, it's as if they decided to kick it just like they used to when they were suburban friends. But they also acknowledge that they'll never sound quite the same again, something they sublimely demonstrate in album centerpiece Gone Tomorrow - anchored by Johnson's touching vocal tonality, the terse ballad soars with a winsome chorus - underscored with a yearning guitar solo - that just passes the two-minute mark. It's also profound and utterly complete.

Million Dollars to Kill Me does have its fair share of sour points, given that Joyce Manor haven't managed to shake past their overly despondent if tamer approaches, whether it's through acoustic pap (I'm Not the Only One) or sagging midtempo (Big Lie). These do little to offset their melodic panache, though, and if only exposed to these moments you run at the risk of understanding what they intend to achieve. Here, Joyce Manor takes another assured step which reinforces their viewpoints, not their maturity, with finesse, and those who still think otherwise haven't been paying enough attention.