Joyce Manor has never been known to stick with one style for too long. The California rock band switches up their sound drastically with nearly every album while still holding on to the immediate catchiness and nostalgia that is a trademark of their songs. Their excellent new album, Million Dollars To Kill Me, is no exception to this pattern. This record has an overall much softer sound compared to their previous releases and a style that fits better alongside classic alternative songs of the ‘70s and ‘80s than with the punk community Joyce Manor has always belonged to. However, standout track “Big Lie”makes it clear that the band has not entirely forgotten its punk roots.
After singles “Million Dollars To Kill Me,” “I Think I’m Still In Love With You” and “Silly Games,” one could be forgiven for thinking Joyce Manor has officially sacrificed their heavier aspects once and for all. Indeed, “Big Lie” starts out with the same pop-rock formula as these radio-oriented singles. Simple and poppy verses are intercut with a memorable and danceable guitar hook reminiscent of the Smiths. But then, only 90 seconds in, the track explodes with some of frontman Barry Johnson’s harshest vocals since the band’s 2011 debut album. This intensity only keeps building, as Johnson pushes his voice to the point of breaking apart just like the relationship he is singing about. As the song transforms into an angsty, screaming headbanger, there’s no doubt that Joyce Manor can still be as punk as ever and have chosen to restrain this side of themselves for use only when it will have maximum effect. After this storm of emotion, the wall of sound suddenly disappears into a relieving comedown as Johnson’s falsetto and a sustained guitar line carry “Big Lie” to a soothing conclusion.
The lyrics of “Big Lie” are classic Joyce Manor, from the humorously pathetic (“Girls can be kind of controlling/ I wanna be controlled, I think it’d be alright”) to the overly-specific details that lend a sense of realism to the relationship Johnson looks back on (“If you get anxious I’ll put on ‘Law and Order’ for you”). In keeping with the band’s tradition of short-but-sweet songs, Big Lie lasts just under three minutes but packs an incredible amount of variety, feelings and earworm melodies into a brief space. This track proves that no matter where Joyce Manor drifts stylistically, they haven’t forgotten the emo/punk band they once were nearly a decade ago and can draw on these elements whenever they see fit.