After leaving YouTube as a legend of the 2010s internet era, Joji’s work on Chloe Burbank, In Tongues and the brilliant BALLADS 1 serves definitive evidence that the-artist-formerly-known-as-Filthy-Frank is brimming with talent that should silence anyone that still harbours any doubts about his career switch.
Now on the cusp of the biggest breakthrough of his music career thus far, Nectar was primed to be an album that would launch him into superstardom or end up pigeonholing him as a one-trick pony. Fortunately, I’m confident that it’ll end up being the former.
While leading up to the album’s release, it was hard to pin down the new sound that Joji was leaning towards. Lead single “Sanctuary”, released in 2019, is a spacey pop banger that blows every vocal performance he had ever done out of the water. Making strong use of his upper register, he had never sounded more in control of his singing. “Run” takes this up a notch a year later, making great use of his gravely voice to pull of an indie rock banger. Both are easily the best songs of Joji’s career thus far.
Still, the two tracks weren’t exactly cut from the same genre cloth. The following single “Gimme Love” added to Nectar’s sonic ambiguity with its house-inspired production and an overly repetitive hook, making it the weakest of all the pre-release singles. Meanwhile “Daylight” with Diplo is a middle-of-the-road, yet still catchy pop tune that proves Joji is more than capable at aiming for chart success.
So colour me surprised when Nectar wasn’t just a vehicle for Joji’s continued expansion into a more expressive pop/indie rock style, but also a retreading of his old lo-fi sound that improves upon nearly all the faults that I used to have with his Chloe Burbank and In Tongues era.
Much of his past ‘sadboi’ aesthetic served as the perfect fit to the depressive air about him after he retired from Filthy Frank. He was in a dark place and the music reflected that, but soon an issue arose where he had all but played out the sound. There was only such much muted and reverb-heavy production he could drowsily croon over before he’d actually put listeners to sleep.
BALLADS 1 saw him attempt at evolving past this problem with more evocative production (“YEAH RIGHT”, “COME THRU”) but his singing remained largely unchanged – muffled and distant. Though there were some vocal highpoints like “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK”, much of that album sounded like him going through the motions.
Thankfully, Nectar alleviates my concerns a fair amount as Joji delivers impassioned performances throughout. The lofi cuts on the album may retain the groggy production choices of his past work, but the vocals are what save them from mediocrity. “Tick Tock”, with its string-backed beat, could have fit in snuggly on In Tongues, however Joji’s trance-like rapping saves the track’s from latter half from sounding too repetitive.
“Pretty Boy” is another example of this. The droning production sounds like it could have been on BALLADS 1, yet what elevates it is Lil Yachty’s best guest verse since “Broccoli” along with a lively showing from Joji. It’s further proof that the (relatively) upbeat cuts on the track list is where Nectar shines best, as evidenced by the singles.
“Afterthought”, “777” and “Your Man” serve as the 2nd half’s highlights for this exact same reason. Contrasting Joji’s engaging but occasionally one-note performances with rousing production that complements him well, while also adding flavour to Nectar‘s overall sound.
Still, there are still some duds on the album such as the interlude-like tracks – “Upgrade” and “NITROUS”, both having short runtimes with no real progression; “Normal People”, a rather boring tune that sounds like an actual In Tongues leftover. The only outright disappointment on the album, however, is “Reanimator” with Yves Tumor. I had a lot of hype going into this collab, especially after Yves’ impressive album drop earlier this year; but the half-baked house production and underwhelming (plus extremely quiet) verses from both artists make it the worst song on the album.
The ballads (“Ew”, “Like You Do”) are also nothing much to write home about; piano-backed songs that are heartfelt but never really hit the melodramatic heights of “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK”. Instead, these tracks give me a stronger appreciation for the grandiose tracks (“Run”, “Sanctuary”) and the aforementioned upbeat ones as well.
Having a solid song structure and explosive melodies seems to be where current Joji shines the best at. So much so that even with the praise I’ve given Nectar’s deep cuts, the singles just stand head-and-shoulders above them. They’re easily more interesting to listen to, and not to mention have better replayability months after the album’s release.
Despite a few missteps here and there – such as the repeated staleness in the lofi cuts like on his past records. The highs of Nectar far outshine its lows. Songs like “Run”, “Sanctuary” and “Pretty Boy” will definitely earn their spots as career bests, while the rest of the record serves as proof of Joji’s continued rise as one of this generation’s most exciting talents.