Joji is back, and he brought more bops for emo teens

A track-by-track review of “Nectar”

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Courtesy of 88rising

“Nectar,” released Sept. 25, is Japanese singer-songwriter Joji’s second studio album.

Since the release of his debut album “BALLADS 1” in 2018, Joji has been a mainstay in every teen sad boi hours playlist. If you’re under the age of 20 and haven’t blasted “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” at 3 a.m. before, you’re either: A) lying, or B) not living life correctly.

Riding gloomy vocal performances and a pop-friendly R&B sound, the former comedy YouTuber quickly carved out a home in mainstream music’s melancholy lane. Still, his earlier work left quite a bit to be desired. Beyond a few standout tracks, a large share of “BALLADS 1” (and its EP predecessor “In Tongues”) fell flat with little more than a dreary lo-fi aesthetic to catch them.

The singles leading up to “Nectar,” however, gave me reason to be cautiously optimistic. While I considered the four teaser tracks to be a mixed bag, the song “Run” blew me away. From Joji’s impassioned singing in lockstep with the chorus’ percussion to the blistering guitar solo in the outro, “Run” offered a much-welcomed change of pace. Joji pivoted towards a vibe that was more atmospheric than agitated—and I was here for it amidst speculation that a new album could be right around the corner.

That was in February. Then…some things happened, and we had to wait until Sept. 25 for “Nectar” in its 18-track entirety. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to say that Joji’s sophomore LP makes for a generally enjoyable listen.

Put simply, Joji is in the feels. Like, really in the feels, and he makes no attempt to hide it. “Teach me to love just to let me go/I can’t believe that I’m not enough,” he laments in the opener “Ew.” The second track, “MODUS,” is equally somber as Joji discusses pressure from the music industry to become an inauthentic version of himself, remarking that he doesn’t “feel the way they programmed me to feel today.” It’s hard to listen to the first leg of “Nectar” and not feel like a therapist whose client is spilling out all of their problems in front of you.

We then get a string of playful instrumentation with “Tick Tock,” “Daylight” (ft. Diplo), “Upgrade” and “Gimme Love.” But even these songs have dark clouds hanging over them sonically, setting the tone for Joji to expound upon his broken heart, a theme he also forwards on the aforementioned “Run.” Up next is “Sanctuary,” a bubbly synth-pop ballad with a melody that refuses to leave your head. As I approached the album’s halfway mark, I was surprised by just how much I liked what I was hearing.

“Nectar” loses steam in the middle, though. “High Hopes” (ft. Omar Apollo) scrapes by thanks to its moody execution while the upbeat “NITROUS” merely sounds like a gussied up version of the “BALLADS 1” track “CAN’T GET OVER YOU,” a comparison that only made more sense to me once I learned producer Clams Casino has credits on both songs. “Pretty Boy” (ft. Lil Yachty) presents interesting commentary on the differences between one’s public versus private life, but both the production and vocal deliveries lack enough distinguishing traits for this track to realize its full potential.

Joji soon thereafter corrects course, leaning back into his R&B side with the wistful, made-to-be-listened-to-late-at-night-while-lying-in-bed-staring-at-the-ceiling songs “Normal People” (ft. rei brown) and “Afterthought” (ft. BENEE), the latter being a thoughtful rumination on an ex-lover and now disbanded relationship. Joji then assumes the opposite party’s perspective on “Mr. Hollywood,” but the clicking hi-hats —and overall dry production—underneath the lyrics feed into, rather than fight against, this cut’s forgettable qualities.

In a rather abrupt transition, the following “777” and “Reanimator” (ft. Yves Tumor) contain pulsing basses that, quite frankly, feel out of place within the context of the album. The subsequent track, “Like You Do,” begins with a soft piano sequence that perfectly fits Joji’s singing. (His voice audibly faltering as he ponders how “our roads might take us down different phases” was a moving touch). Finally, the closer, “Your Man,” although a serviceable track in a vacuum, sounds more like a regurgitation than a summation of already-covered musical ideas. That said, I will give “Your Man” praise for its simple, yet effective songwriting, as the depiction of Joji comforting his love interest after a breakup of their own makes for a fitting send off.

Despite its flaws, hearing Joji start to come into his own on “Nectar” was well worth the wait. Even the lowest points on this record are indicative of a growing, improving artist, and the highs find Joji tapping into his potential more thoroughly than ever before. If you told me an internet meme lord would have a genuinely solid album under their belt this short into their music career, my reaction would border on shocked. Regardless, I know that I’m not going to complain about the result.

Favorite tracks: “MODUS,” “Daylight” (ft. Diplo), “Run,” “Afterthought” (ft. BENEE) and “Like You Do”

Least favorite track: “777”

The Parkway West Pathfinder gives “Nectar” a 7.3/10.