Favorite Track: "Run" Least Favorite Track: "Like You Do"
The personal change and growth of public figures is often shrouded in the image of their success. Their everyday lives are cherry picked for moments that are conducive to their social portfolio, often showcasing the happiest and least challenging images in an attempt to brighten the day of their followers. Due to the public scrutiny these figures can face for a moment of weakness, change is almost entirely conducted behind the scenes unless it can be used as a vantage point. In late 2017, Youtube personality Filthy Frank bravely challenged this ideal, announcing that the off-the-wall and sometimes manically insane characters he frequently portrayed were becoming grating to his mental health and that he was quitting Youtube. In doing so, he bridged his success into the music industry under the alias Joji, as his cult fanbase gravitated to his debut EP In Tongues with little hesitation.
To me, In Tongues was a revolution of sorts. The genuine musical talent and emotional range showcased on the EP was worlds above that of other “Youtuber turned musician” artists making waves like Ricegum and Jake Paul. Instead of corny bars and lackluster musical ability, Joji showcased a much more mature sound. Finding comfort in a pillowy and luscious alternative R&B sound, In Tongues was a depressive dreamscape that became increasingly addictive with each listen. “Will He” showcased a mumbly but emotionally potent vocal delivery, complimented by eerily distant lo-fi pianos and trippy drums. “Demons” was slightly more upbeat, providing a less murky vocal line from Joji, instead putting his gorgeous falsetto at the forefront. While generally one-dimensional, the EP showed tons of potential, and was a large hit among the indie and Soundcloud scenes.
Roughly one year later, Joji’s debut album BALLADS 1 was released to mixed reviews and a similar reception from hopeful fans. Where In Tongues knocked the ball out of the park with an inventive edge, BALLADS was a swing and a miss towards the mainstream. “NO FUN” was probably the most upbeat Joji song to date upon its release, it’s tropical synth patch and awkward vocal delivery made for a sound that didn’t sound like it was in Joji’s wheelhouse at all. “TEST DRIVE” and “COME THRU” were a little more trap influenced, with the mixes being a bit more muddled and Joji attempting some mumbled raps here and there. However, “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” was the lone star in this record’s tracklist, creating beautiful synth soundscapes that exploded into pure bliss during the choruses. This track had everything I wanted in a Joji song, and proved to be everything I hoped for in his following releases. The vocals were beautiful, showcasing a newfound power to a previously timid voice that still blows me away to this day. As a cohesive experience however, BALLADS 1 left me hoping for a better project next time around.
Fast forward past a few singles and a collaborative project with his label, Joji announced his second studio effort, Nectar. As cohesive projects, BALLADS 1 and Nectar are quite different. In many ways I think Nectar is a reasonable next step for Joji. The record reclaims every ounce of personality that In Tongues possessed; the lo-fi production, beautiful vocals, and the depressive topics are once again present. This LP essentially breathes life back into some of the highlights of In Tongues, while also seeing improvements on some of the pop-oriented fronts from BALLADS 1. Joji’s vocals across the project are greatly improved. His falsettos are more controlled, his lows are much more concise and easy to digest, and the production is often less choppy and awkward.
As a byproduct of these welcome improvements, we get a plethora of highlights that feel like Joji’s songwriting has improved by lightyears since his last effort. “Ew”, a cut whose beauty feels almost unmatched by any previously released track other than “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK”, starts off the record with a tear-jerkingly bold vocal performance. The wonderful strings on this track are wildly melancholic, finding themselves right at home behind the pained falsettos on the chorus. “Run” is one of the biggest risks I have seen from Joji yet, with some sticky-sweet guitar leads taking the forefront here, eventually exploding into a roaring guitar solo on the back half that closes out the cut with a bang. “Daylight” is more pop oriented, made clear by the production handled by Diplo on this cut. Unlike any production I have heard from Diplo thus far, I feel as though this track holds a surprisingly solid groove that is simultaneously fun and danceable. The drums are concise and mixed well, I love the little guitar and bass inflections on this track, and the way Joji comes in and simply takes command of this song is an exercise in excellence.
Unfortunately, the highlights are greatly outnumbered by artistic misfires across the tracklist of Nectar. Nearly every moment that the first eight tracks provide artistic progression is nullified by the following ten. Where “Tick Tock” excels as a cutesy and loveable lo-fi track, we get a multitude of cuts that fall flat in its shadow. “Pretty Boy” is an attempt at a sweet but depressing lo-fi song, but is completely destroyed by the horrendous production. The bass is aggressively overblown, overtaking any semblance of a decent vocal performance from Joji. “Like You Do” is cute thematically, and I quite like the romantically charged lyricism on this track, but the instrumental is so gratingly bare that I find myself just wanting to fall asleep. Any songs that are not overtly terrible are just boring, seen most prominently in “Reanimator”, “Afterthought”, and “Normal People”. After considering the fact that every single highlight from this record shows up within the first eight tracks, it makes the cohesive album experience grating at fifty-two minutes in length.
Nectar is a classic case of needing quality over quantity. Some of my favorite singles of the year are present on this record, but some of my least favorites are as well. I have no doubt in my mind that Joji is a fantastically talented individual, and it helps that he is also surrounded by fantastic labelmates that I believe have furthered his artistic progression by miles. However, he is also falling slave to the mindset that the more songs on your album, the better it is. While I understand giving your fans content is important, and for a lot of artists making their fans happy is a top priority, having widely acclaimed albums is also heavily beneficial to your career, which is something I can’t say he has accomplished with this release. The biggest letdown in the case of Nectar is that it essentially proves my theory that Joji has a fantastic record in him. That great record is present somewhere inside Nectar, it is just safely tucked behind plenty of fluff that does nothing but weigh it down.