The Bittersweet Universe of Joji’s “Nectar”
Joji’s third studio album “Nectar” sees the former comedian branching out in new directions but maintaining his classic melodramatic stylings.
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A man runs along the path to the rocketship, his crewmates pleading with him behind a locked fence to come back. Mission control is falling apart as the lone traveler boards the rocket, sets his course, and blasts off into space with a middle finger to Earth and little plan but to escape. That traveler is Joji, the infamous Internet humor pioneer rocketing off to new artistic territory as a popstar. Traversing countless eras, personas, and mediums, singer-producer George Kusunoki Miller (Joji) has faced an ever-present uphill battle as he navigates his way deeper into the 21st century zeitgeist, and his latest project “Nectar” only serves to solidify his place in the spotlight.
This effort (being his third studio album in just three years) is another slap in the face to those who attempt to size the artist up too quickly, as Joji once again proves he can’t be held down. On “Nectar,” Joji sounds freer than ever, gliding his way through 18 tracks with his classically smooth delivery and diving drones, delivering a project that couldn’t feel more “Joji” if it tried, despite pushing the artist’s boundaries in several areas.
On the album’s first track, “Ew,” Joji sets the tone for the project, drawing the listener in with soft keys and a simple melody line describing the singer’s desire for longevity in a relationship. This feeling of longing is sorely felt throughout the album, both through the lyrics and stripped-back instrumentation. Joji’s voice has never been a powerful force in its own right, but it carries a certain solemnity that the artist has been able to capitalize on throughout his discography. This, typically paired with bare-bones percussion and plucky keys, establishes an ethereal feel from the get-go and creates a sullen consistency within each track.
Production is a reliable strong suit on “Nectar” and ties the album together with clicking percussion, drowned strings, and the classic Joji synth pad. The instrumentation is as lush as ever and brings the project to life, elevating Joji’s imperfect voice and adding a certain depth and richness throughout. A notable example of the additive value of good production on “Nectar” can be found in “Run,” a pre-album single that received widespread critical acclaim. From the first plucked note in the song, Joji’s brooding vision of love gone wrong comes to life, building with the addition of simple bass notes and a staccato drum kit and culminating in a cathartic peak post-chorus. “So I’ll just run,” Joji sings, holding that last word in a multi-part harmony, with layers upon layers of droning guitars, pulsating bass, and pounding drums to hammer home the climax. It’s a dark, slow-burning ballad with some of Joji’s best vocal performances and production, unlike anything he’s made before. Even on tracks that otherwise feel like time-filler, the blame is usually not on the production, but rather the occasionally repetitive nature of the album as a whole.
“Run” is one of many standout tracks on “Nectar,” as Joji tries to expand beyond the mellow lo-fi sound he carved out in “BALLADS 1” (2018). There’s “Sanctuary,” a dreamy pop anthem in which Joji sounds simultaneously bored of the universe yet obsessed with love. There’s the moody and atmospheric “MODUS,” which builds to an angelic yet somber crescendo and the trap-infused “Mr. Hollywood,” in which dense bass highlights Joji’s beautiful vocal melodies. While “Pretty Boy” is rough around the edges, its catchy flow, grinding bass grooves, and surprisingly good Lil Yachty feature make it one of the most unique offerings on the tracklist. “777” is a bouncy video-game-sounding banger underlying melancholic lyrics, and “Daylight” is a warm yet melancholy collaboration with Diplo. The album ends with a one-two combo: the sentimental balladry of “Like You Do” followed by “Your Man,” an invigorating electropop finale that feels like the sun breaking through the clouds after a long, raging thunderstorm.
Despite the artistic strides Joji makes on “Nectar,” exploring new sounds and refining old ones, it’s difficult for him to keep all 53 minutes interesting, with multiple times in the tracklist when he falls back on amateur lo-fi trappings. Tracks like “Upgrade,” “Nitrous,” and “Normal People” add little to the overall experience of the album and bring nothing new to the table for Joji. The most disappointing example of this may be “Reanimator,” which, despite featuring experimental rock artist Yves Tumor, barely feels like it has any purpose or artistic direction. With its longer runtime, “Nectar,” more than any other Joji project, demonstrates that lyrics are not his strong suit. There’s only so many times that Joji can sing about lost love and the emptiness of Hollywood life in the same way before it becomes meaningless.
Despite the album’s shortcomings, it’s undeniable that “Nectar” is an improvement on all fronts for Joji. His production is stronger; his vocals are clearer; and his songs have more variety than ever before. It sounds like the culmination of years of work and shows infinite potential for the rising star. Five years ago, nobody would have believed that the comedy YouTuber screaming in a pink morphsuit would become one of the most promising artists in pop, but the time is now, and Joji is definitely someone to watch.