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Album review: Joji falls into predictable pattern, fails to raise bar with new album ‘Nectar’

(Courtesy of 88Rising Records/12Tone Music)

“Nectar”

Joji

88Rising Records/12Tone Music

Released Sept. 25

By Tara Oldenburg

Sept. 25, 2020 4:15 p.m.

A side of honey does little to sweeten the mundanity of Joji’s newest album, “Nectar.”

For over a year, the melancholic artist has periodically released singles and even jars of honey for purchase on his website to promote his sophomore LP. Despite the youth of his career, Joji curated the feeling of a transcendent album with the practiced accuracy of a lifelong musician. Much of “Nectar” discusses lost loves and introspective escapades that allows the singer to nestle into an alternative and youthful niche, away from his previously controversial YouTube career.

Joji established early on in his career that his trodding, lo-fi template works – or at least it used to. The singer’s early, “boom bap”-inspired hit “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” garnered more than 180 million views on YouTube, but Joji’s hopes that these same sounds would succeed in “Nectar” fall flat. The almost hourlong album leads an introspective trek which yields an ultimately predictable sonic experience that drags on near its end.

Opening with “Ew,” the signature high register of Joji’s solemn voice accompanies an indie-psychedelic instrumental. From its first track, “Nectar” establishes a sorrowful lyrical experience steeped in waning self-worth and struggling romantic relationships. “Ew” feels like an album in and of itself, culminating in a final orchestral crescendo which provides a catharsis from a dull middle.

But this catharsis is short-lived as second track “MODUS” introduces the boom bap bass lines that have come to be expected of Joji as he sings choked high notes, chronicling the effect of external pressures on the creative mind. The highest notes interrupt a vocally flat effect, mirroring the robotic themes of the song that discuss not wanting to “feel the way they programmed me to feel today.”

[Related: Album review: Dominic Fike explores journey to fame in genre-bending debut album]

Thankfully, “Gimme Love,” although already released in April, provides a reprieve from a somewhat sagging album. But to get there, listeners must trod through the played-out template of “Daylight,” featuring Diplo, and the jazz-influenced “Upgrade,” which highlight little variance from their alternative, lo-fi mold. Breaking up the monotony, “Gimme Love” provides a dark wave-esque ’70s track that verges into the realm of a Robert Smith vocal style and builds upon the structured bass established early on.

Carrying on this streak of innovation come previously released “Sanctuary” and “Run,” which were both used to promote “Nectar.” But the following middle of the album is marked by a sonic drop-off with “NITROUS,” “Pretty Boy,” and “Mr. Hollywood,” as the three tracks cement into a sonic mass which runs together without contour. Even the overly auto-tuned feature from Lil Yachty in “Pretty Boy” does little to break up the dwindling innovation in the following tracks.

However, this slump only lasts until “777,” which reignites an inventive auditory experience by marrying retro wave ’80s synth with ’90s boom bap. The song details the lack of care exhibited by a man who wants to “live fast, ride fast like two hundred on the dashboard.” And the bassless pre-chorus boasts “goin’ full speed,” foreshadowing a powerfully cathartic chorus that emulates entering a highway and going 50 over the speed limit.

[Related: Album review: Quinn XCII’s risks pay off in self-reflective and exploratory 3rd studio album]

“Nectar” finally takes on new life in the final tracks of the album that feature electronic musician Yves Tumor in “Reanimator” and a transcendental piano backing in “Like You Do,” both providing a reprieve from the mishmash of sonically flat songs before them. Both tracks successfully build upon classic Joji-esque sounds but incorporate experimental electronics to refresh listeners.

Disappointingly, concluding track, “Your Man” mimics the long overused template Joji’s earlier songs fall prey to. Its cyclical and mildly upbeat synthesizers lower the lights on “Nectar,” and it unfortunately resembles the same structure of the songs before it. “Your Man” regrettably makes all too much sense as a conclusion that innovates little and adheres to the Joji template.

The two years between Joji’s last album and “Nectar” have clearly allowed for musical maturation, but the singer struggles to rise to the expectations his earlier album set. While innovation peeks through the gaps, the clunky set of 18 highly structured tracks places Joji in a genre-limiting box.

And, unfortunately, this box seems an awful lot like a musical cage.

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Tara Oldenburg
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