Joyce Manor used to have this rough, rugged, slammy tone to them that brought out something innately human in its listening. They were an unapologetic, emo indie-punk group of guys that wanted to put it all out there in every song they wrote. But as of late, they’ve hit a standstill. They’re recycling themes from their past albums, and it sounds mechanical and washed-out.
Their self titled LP came out in 2012, Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired in 2012, and Never Hungover Again in 2014. They were on a good run, and it seemed as though they found their sound quickly. Heavy riffs and messy plucking kept coming up, and it made them sound confident in what they were doing. We figured Joyce Manor was soft punk and that they were sticking to that. But when their last album Cody was released in 2016, they fell short. They weren’t the same. Joyce Manor was slower, more cleaned up, more enunciated. It was a hard tug from their upset noise.
With Cody, they acquired a new drummer—not a huge deal, but it definitely changed up the way they played together. What really ruined them, though, was Rob Schnapf. He was the producer for Cody, who’s also produced artists like Elliot Smith and Dr. Dog. Schnapf is a big guy in the industry (which isn’t always a good thing), but even with all the experience he’s had with musicians, he didn’t let them trust their gut on getting music out in their normal disorderly, manic rage. He made them sit there and think and think and tweak and change and it wasn’t Joyce Manor coming out with music anymore. It was Schnapf.
Having an organized, systematic way of doing things is great. This isn’t a dig at how Schnapf produces. It’s a dig at his character for assuming that everyone works better under the same circumstances, for believing you can blanket music and art as having a one-way system of producing “good quality” sounds. Joyce Manor isn’t clean. They aren’t pop. But Schnapf must have changed something big in the way they see themselves, and it must have stuck pretty well because they had Converge’s guitarist, Kurt Ballou, produce Million Dollars to Kill Me, and they’re still off. Million Dollars is monotone, sappy, self-deprecating, and soulless. There’s a shift in strumming or drum stroke every three songs or so, but ultimately it’s anything and everything less than exciting or enjoyable.
Their second song “Think I’m Still in Love with You” may be the worst version of this song I could have predicted. It’s poppy and upbeat and it sort of reminds me of a bad prom movie from the 80s. If nothing more, it’s redundant with lines like “Doesn’t really make a difference to me /Take a bunch of pills and crash into me / Do it again for old time sake / Look at me now there’s nothing else left to break” It’s as similar as their lyrics in “Falling in Love Again” from Never Hungover Again: “Hope you don’t think I don’t care /because I do I just don’t know if I should feel this bad about you / after finishing your birthday drugs look at a yearbook unprepared” On top of their lacking lyricism and less than exciting instrumentals, it’s an eight-track, twenty two-minute album. It’s like if surf-rock smacked heads with the lyrics of Morrissey and spat out an album. It doesn’t work, and, further, it’s disappointing coming from a band like Joyce Manor.