88rising · October 26, 2018
Joji leans further into his dark emotional grit than ever before, distancing himself from the immature satire of his past.
George Miller has quite the eclectic resume. He is credited with starting the viral internet dance craze, the “Harlem Shake,” in 2012. He became a Youtube sensation under the name “Filthy Frank,” amassing millions of subscribers and a dedicated online community. He released two mixtapes under the alias Pink Guy, filled with satirical, often disturbing music. But most recently, Miller has gained an increasing amount of traction under the stage-name Joji, releasing more serious R&B records with the label 88rising. It’s hard to come to terms with Joji’s most recent project, Ballads 1, in relation to the greater body of Miller’s work. However, once you’ve separated the man from the artist, it’s easy to become enthralled with Joji’s carefully crafted aesthetic, and addicting lo-fi production.
Ballads 1 shows how much Joji has grown since his previous project, In Tongues. He doubles down on the same self-deprecating and gut-wrenching lyricism, highly textured ambient soundscapes, and distorted vocals and instrumentals. He seems dedicated to retaining a high degree of sonic cohesiveness; however, this time Joji does a better job of avoiding the often repetitive, one note, song-writing that crippled much of In Tongues. Yes, he still has stereotypical, sad-boy R&B on tracks like ‘ATTENTION’ and ‘YEAH RIGHT,’ but he balances this with sonically lighter tracks like ‘CAN’T GET OVER YOU’ and the intoxicating ‘NO FUN.’
The real star of the album, however, is the genre-transcendent ‘SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,’ which is, without a doubt, the best song on the album. Joji’s music has never hit harder than his transition between dreamy synth arpeggios to belting the chorus at the top of his lungs, assisted by a wave of synths. Try listening to it without having a shiver travel down your spine as he hits the chorus. It’s impossible.
But Joji’s excellent production, songwriting, and lyricism in this track make others feel underdeveloped. For example, ‘WHY AM I STILL IN LA’ starts with an intriguing evolution from filtered falsetto and bells to a heavy bass line and crazy distorted guitar riff, but it really doesn’t go anywhere past that. The song feels unfinished, and I really wish there was more to it. Again, on the final track, ‘SEE YOU IN 40,’ Joji does a great job moving from singing softly over a ukulele, to a more trip-hop influenced second part, but throws everything away when he abruptly fades back to the beginning of the song. The transition comes out of nowhere like he ran out of ideas and just copied the first minute of the song onto the end. It’s a disappointing way to end what was otherwise, a very good album.
Joji isn’t perfect, but when you take the time to look back on how much he has matured as a person and an artist, Ballads 1 is an impressive album. Joji leans further into his dark emotional grit than ever before, distancing himself from the immature satire of his past, but avoids getting bogged down in the overly formulaic and tedious songwriting that can come with it. In doing so he presents a project that has the just right amount of angst and self-deprecation to be your go-to next time you’re feeling blue. Sure, Ballads 1 has some misses, but it’s got a hell of a lot more hits.