Million Dollars To Kill Me Review

Collin Schopp

Punk rock has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance recently: the turbulence of our political climate has given rise to a lot of great music that is created in contrast to our new status quo.  Last month saw Idles’ release of the scorching “Joy As An Act of Resistance,” and earlier this year, Parquet Courts leaned into their formerly subtler hardcore edge with the excellent “Wide Awake.” In all of this turbulence, pop punk is still taking all of that aggression and focusing on a smaller, more personal scale.
Joyce Manor’s fifth full length album “Million Dollars to Kill Me” is a blast to listen to. The songs are tight, focused, and never overstay their welcome. In fact, the biggest issue with the album might be that songs hint at developing further, but cut themselves off, usually before even coming close to the three minute mark. The length of the album, though, makes it a contender for repeat listens, and there’s more to dig for in just about every track.
For instance, the energetic chorus of opener “Fighting Kangaroo” is peppered with soaring, Weezer-style harmonies that set an incredible tone for the rest of the album, and speak to a deeper musical maturity that Joyce Manor hadn’t quite shown in their previous releases. While sugar-coated hardcore riffs, like those on “Fighting Kangaroo”, are well executed and the centerpiece of the album, a more delicate touch can be found just as well done on “I’m Not The One” and album closer “Wildflowers.”
Joyce Manor is often categorized under the ever-expanding label of emo music, and lyrically, Million Dollars to Kill Me, is right at home in the genre. If the album has anything to say, it’s something about loneliness and an increasing desire for life to get a little bit simpler as we spend more time living it. The band that used to write songs about whirlwind college parties and emotional disconnects from friends who try out a leather jacket and a cool new attitude is now writing lyrics like: “Everybody wants to tell a story/But no one’s got a thing to say/Everybody’s scared of saying nothing/How else would they prove that they’re here today” on a standout song of the album’s back half “Gone Tomorrow.”
There’s more evidence of this growth in “Think I’m Still In Love With You,” a chugging riff of a song with an extremely catchy chorus that casts a more critical eye on the actual emotional depth of the misty-eyed love songs that populate much of Joyce Manor’s early albums. As lead vocalist Gary Johnson croons “‘Cause all I ever wanted was/To say ‘I think I’m still in love’/And even though it isn’t true/I think I’m still in love with you”, he’s also talking to the genre of emo as a whole. How much of what’s expressed in this genre is being raw and real, and how much is rampant romanticizing of teenage misery?
The question is important for the genre, but the answers aren’t in this album. However, maybe some of those answers are coming from Joyce Manor, as Million Dollars to Kill Me is an album that gives the listener a clear window into the process of a band growing up.