Image: Dana Trippe
In an age where bedroom-pop and TikTok inspired tracks lead the scene, a new wave meets maximalist meets synth-pop record is a breath of fresh air. Djo, the musical project of actor and musician Joe Keery, has delivered just that on his his sophomore album, offering up a selection of superb cuts on DECIDE. Known for his role as Steve Harrington in Netflix’s streaming hit Stranger Things, Keery is embracing an expanded sound on the collection of songs, as he explores the evolution of life and observes change.
Opening with 80’s inspired melodies on Runner, the dynamic cut sets the tone for the nostalgia-fuelled sonic palette that is to follow, with a sprinkling of maximalist production juxtaposed by groove-laden synth-work. He channels Queen and George Michael on Gloom through his brimming and glistening vocals, as he navigates everyday life with an acute ability to transform mundane moments into observational poeticism. Half Life solidifies Keery’s knack for pairing reflective somewhat darker lyricism with brighter soundscapes to create an effortless unity of emotions.
We’re met with entrancing spoken-word verses in Fool, contrasting the musicians soothing tones that run throughout the album. He questions the reality of life and the effects of social media on On and On, a track built upon chopping synth chords and an atmospheric soundscape that ascends to a pseudo-R&B tinged chorus, before harking back to psych-inspired guitar melodies, and chanting vocals on End Of Beginning. The track serves as a highlight on the record, driving the introspective nature of DECIDE, and oozing with layered harmonies that wrap themselves around you.
We’re transported to funk-driven disco on, I Want Your Video, channelling Prince with his mesmerising falsetto tones reminiscent of the music icon. A hard-hitting bass line thumps within bubbling production and ear-worm melodies that capture Keery's character and charm. We take another turn with the distorted vocals of Climax, a down-tempo cut, all about the phenomenon of déjà vu, whilst Change offers the albums most pop-tastic moment. A brief and somewhat haunting interlude, Is That All It Takes, leads us into Go For It, a track that captures the dynamicism of the record. On the albums penultimate song, Figure You Out, Keery lures the listener in with a simmering bass line beneath his mesmerising vocals and droning production. The musicians urgent vocals are complimented by wispy harmonies from his upper register, creating a soulful offering. Closing the record with Slither, Keery presents a hopeful viewpoint within an other worldly soundscape that builds with tension towards a triumphant climax.
DECIDE is somewhat of a metamorphosis, both artistically and conceptually for the musician. The main conceptual thread woven throughout the body of work is that of change, and the necessity of self-growth. Keery documents the reflective moments of life in your late twenties, commenting on the human existence and getting older. This focus on growth and self-realisation allows for the listener to conjure their own thoughts on the trajectory of life, and the necessity of learning from our mistakes and soaking up our present. Pivoting away from the more psych-infused soundscapes of his debut TWENTY TWENTY, Keery leans into 80’s synth-pop, 70’s pop and new wave, creating a scintillating sonic realm that drips in nostalgia. The earnest body of work sees the musician conquer another avenue of his creative output, that will leave you wanting more.
DECIDE is out now!