“Team Building Exercise” is a tenacious meditation on conflict.
Jonathon Millionaire was one of the more fascinating punk acts to emerge last year. Led by Lawrence Gann, who originally started Jonathon Millionaire as a solo project, the band adeptly bridged gaps between post-punk, Midwest emo, pop-punk, post-grunge, and indie rock. “Chrysalis,” a track Tone Madison named as one of 2022’s best, gave us a clear glimpse of the project’s potential. Team Building Exercise, a new five-track EP, is a sterling step towards fulfilling that potential.
Opener “Yesterday” begins with a strong rock backbeat, steady staccato guitar stabs, and a guttural yell, falling somewhere in between the triangular ’90s touchstones of nu-metal, alt-rock, and classic grunge. Bassist Ben Strohbeen, drummer Craig Hoffman, and guitarist Grant Charles provide an abundance of muscle, while Gann’s coarse vocals and aggressive guitar-playing lend the song additional character. “Yesterday” also flexes some lyrical self-awareness by critiquing the inherent truths of nostalgia: “Can’t go back / technicolor youth / picture always fades.” “Yesterday” boasts a tenacity that doesn’t waver throughout Team Building Exercise, imbuing the EP with a defiant, surprisingly engaging scrappiness.
“Outer Space” and “Chemical” both ably demonstrate the band’s grasp on structure and dynamics, playing off each other to great effect. Gann—an impressive drummer himself—has always had an ear for punchy cadences, but Team Building Exercise is one of the first times he’s led a trio of collaborators. Charles, Strohbeen, and Hoffman each bring their own individual skill sets to Jonathon Millionaire, completing the project’s journey from solo effort to full band. “Chemical,” the EP’s longest track at just over four minutes, is an especially scintillating showcase for the band’s overall talent for generating immediacy, while still being thoughtful enough to stick in listeners’ minds. Despite a disparate slate of influences, the band makes every second work, flashing an innate, collective understanding of the material.
There’s a degree of us-against-the-world that runs throughout the EP, but it’s characterized by jaded pessimism instead of youthful naivete. “How does it feel / to walk alone again? / How does it feel / to lose another friend? / It’s alright. / Do it again” is a particularly cutting stanza on “Again” that evidences Team Building Exercise‘s world-weary defeatism. Closing track “Waste” allows some room for reprieve, turning to companionship as a means to combat nihilism. A sharp, mid-tempo gut-punch, “Waste” makes sure to let listeners off with a sense that there’s still hope to be found among each other, despite so many systems continuously failing us. “I love you / It doesn’t matter / where we are tonight” are Team Building Exercise‘s final words, and they’re among the most impactful.
Beyond the music itself, the EP’s cover art and January 6 release date offer a direct, intentional reference to the Capitol riots, America’s rapid political decline, and the systemic violence enacted against a general populace, which has proliferated without meaningful checks. Jonathon Millionaire knows the scale of what our world is up against. It’s something that’s reflected in the band’s harsh, driving arrangements and Gann’s withering lyrics. Team Building Exercise is an arresting meditation on both conflict and survival. For every time something goes horrifically wrong, the EP’s overarching narrative suggests that as long as what you’re fighting for is just, you have every reason to start punching back.