Joji returns with lo-fi pop album “Nectar”

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Photo courtesy of @sushitrash on Instagram

After a long period of waiting, Joji, the Asian American lo-fi hip hop artist, has dropped his new album. And though it is not a sequel to Pink Guy,” Joji’s third solo album Nectar that stays true to brand – dealing with feelings of loneliness, personal growth, longing and true love – while also developing some new interesting musical sounds reminiscent of the more trap-heavy “Pink Guy” album. There are some tracks that feel like Joji is blossoming, finding an interesting sound that feels amazing – but many tracks feel like Joji is starting to find his footing and they don’t quite hit the mark. Before I get too analytical, here is the tracklist.

“Nectar” opens with a Joji classic – light piano and his wonderful falsetto. “Ew” explores feelings of being left behind by someone he loves and wanting to feel like he is enough. These themes of bittersweet love repeat a lot on the album, being explored in “MODUS,” “Tick Tock,” “Daylight” and every track up to “Pretty Boy.”  

The singles really shine here, with “Run” being an intense, emotional number with a screaming electric guitar solo at the end. “Sanctuary” and “Gimme Love” experiment with a lighter tone – something that isn’t seen a lot on “BALLADS 1,” Joji’s previous album. “Sanctuary” especially is a huge tone shift, being a sweet love song about feeling a real connection with someone beyond the surface level.

This all builds to “High Hopes” and “NITROUS” which feel like opposite themes from the optimistic “Sanctuary.” Joji sings about wanting this girl to love him and how she seems so cold to him. He builds into this, saying that she loves him on the surface, leading directly into “Pretty Boy,” a song about how he puts on a face not just for the media but for everyone in his life. The music is an upbeat trap groove, juxtaposing the lyrics perfectly.

Joji drops the entire act on “Normal People,” a quiet subdued lo-fi track about pretending to be normal. Over every song he returns to this idea, but nowhere does it feel as real as this. Especially after the upbeat song “Pretty Boy.” He gets more melancholy with the intensely real track “Afterthought,” an emotional ballad about not wanting to be with someone but cherishing the times you had, specifically with a girl who he has left. He wants her to shine and be happy but doesn’t want to be with her anymore, content with being a “beautiful afterthought.”

“Mr. Hollywood” explores feeling different after gaining fame. He explores the idea of wanting to just be there in love, even if things are so different. “777” picks up the pace, exploring being fed up with a relationship that is going nowhere and wanting something more real. The music feels intense, almost like he has been waiting forever to say this and leave the relationship.

“Reanimator” experiments even more with the sound, building a dark intense synth sound up and then backing down, eventually settling on a nice groove. Joji and Yves sing about how you do things and feel like you’re drowning, but it’s alright if it makes you feel alright. Whether this is about sex or drugs, this track feels powerful for all the right reasons. The uncomfortable rising of the deep synth drone feels like you are drowning, and the groove implies this idea that you can feel great and be deeply unhappy at the same time. A perfect representation of the themes of this album.

The penultimate track “Like You Do” is a quiet piano ballad about feeling so deeply in love with someone and knowing that it just cannot last. It is heart-wrenching and deeply bittersweet and feels like sadness captured in song. But Joji finishes with an optimistic one. “Your Man” is an uptempo dance song about telling someone you’ll be there for them after a breakup. It feels out of place until the end when the backing track leaves and we hear Joji and a distorted version of his voice plead and reassure that “I’ll be/Your man.” On the surface, it feels simple but when combined with the rest of the album, you can feel a sense of longing in those words.

Overall, Joji has put together a very good album that explored his themes of love and longing, as well as the underlying sense of unhappiness that can infect our lives. The music centers around a few different things. His signature lo-fi is always amazingly well done and powerful, his more experimental tracks like “Run” really shine as a new sound for Joji, while others can sound a bit like every other song on the radio. If it weren’t for the well-developed themes, tracks like “Your Man” would just sound obnoxious. 

Overall, I give “Nectar” an 8/10. It’s a very good, entertaining album, with a few things to be improved. Personally, I am hoping his next work is a concept album that plays with some of the more experimental things he is doing with his music. But I think I speak for everyone in saying that I can’t wait to see what he puts out next.

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