YouTuber-turned-R&B prodigy Joji returns, and triumphantly, with his hotly-anticipated sophomore record. Marking a stark departure from his lo-fi roots, Nectar is a project that threatens to silence any doubters of his musical propensity, and draws Joji ever closer to the apex of the R&B anti-pop scene.
A few years ago, if anyone knew the name George Miller, it was as his persona ‘Filthy Frank’ - a character who enjoyed cult-status on the internet due to his subversive, controversial humour. If anyone had told you that the man who made the infamous “vomit cake” would be topping charts with heart-breaking alternative R&B ballads, they would have laughed in your face. But Slow Dancing In The Dark now sits at four-hundred and sixty million streams, his debut album BALLADS 1 has gone gold, and Miller is selling out venues the world over.
As Joji had fans by the thousand slow dancing in a tent at last year's Reading and Leeds festivals, it was increasingly obvious that very few knew of his humble YouTube roots. For many, the Japanese-American is solely a musician, and an exceptional one, and there is a certain beauty to such duality. For the long-time fans of Millers' work, extending back to the Chloe Burbank Vol. 1 project in 2015 which marked his first escapades into lo-fi hip-hop, seeing Joji finally fulfil his dream has been especially heart-warming. With the release of Nectar, he has made the statement that comparisons to other YouTube musicians are pointless. It makes far more sense to compare his music to the likes of The Weeknd, than KSI or Jake Paul.
Nectar marks a stark shift from the effervescent lo-fi of first record Ballads I, as well as label debut In Tongues, and instead leads into synth and string-based anthems of heartbreak, accompanied by noticeably improved vocals. This is not to say that the performances on previous projects were bad, but his adventures into falsetto on tracks such as Run pay off dearly. Though a lot of the stellar vocals on the album can also be contributed to brilliant mixing and mastering.
The layered vocals on the latter end of Gimme Love are particularly heavenly when combined with its chorus of rising strings and guitars. This is not just a one-off however, as the entire album marks a significant improvement in production quality. Much of this can be attributed to the influence of artists such as Bekon, who last year helped mastermind a similar growth and maturity in fellow 88rising member Rich Brian. A significant sonic shift can also be heard in Ew; a dramatic rock-opera piece worlds away from the sad-boy lo-fi trap beats that characterised much of his earlier catalogue.
‘Even with the record's beguiling production and vocals, what stands out most about Nectar is Millers’ palpable song-writing.’
Even if you are not the biggest fan of a certain sound, one of Nectar's biggest strengths is that it never gets repetitive. Interlude track Upgrade, for example, with its minimalist drums and ukulele strums which would not sound out of place in a ‘lo-fi beats to relax and study to’ compilation, is clear service to fans of Chloe Burbank. Though if such heart-rending is not for you, the track is sandwiched between the far more upbeat ditty's of Daylight, which features one of the record's only triumphant collaborations in Diplo, and the aforementioned heavenly Gimme Love. A relentless criticism of Ballads I was that a lot of the songs sounded overly similar; that is far from the case on Nectar.
Even with the record's beguiling production and vocals, what stands out most about Nectar is Millers palpable song-writing ability. The choruses of Mr Hollywood, Tick Tock and Your Man have an uncanny ability to wiggle into the head and refuse to budge, and the transitions between hook and verse are seamless. Because of this, the lack of notable features really does not stand out at all. It takes a lot of talent to put out an eighteen-track album of which you are the most famous person on the track list (bar perhaps Lil Yachty), whilst maintaining a listeners attention throughout its entirety.
Such versatility has prevented Nectar from falling victim to the long-album curse which has long plagued artists, including rap stalwart Drake. With its 80's-style production and glistening autotune, 777 wouldn't feel out of place on a Charli XCX record; Your Man contains all the best aspects of a 1975 track; and Reanimator revels in a very clear vapor-wave influence. Whilst the lyrics, at times, feel a little cliche, Nectar is a record which is clearly much more about setting up a vibe more than anything. It is, after all, a heartbreak album, and the lyrics do a good enough job of portraying that. They are certainly catchy, and on an album like this that is all that really matters.
There is only one real problem within the album - it's deeply underwhelming features. Whilst Yves Tumor plays a large role in the shimmering vapor-wave style production of Reanimator, his vocals are largely buried in the mix, making for an awkward climax. Further, New York-based producer and artist Rei Brown sounds so sonically similar to Joji that his verse on Normal People could wryly go amiss. The typically dynamic and cataclysmic Omar Apollo came through with a similarly lacklustre, somewhat phoned-in verse, falling into a generic “Ay” triplet flow. The lyric “wake me up Rey Mysterio” sums it up pretty well; he sounds half asleep.
‘Overall, Nectar is a mesmerising sophomore release from an artist who is clearly only just getting started.’
BENEE and surprisingly, Lil Yachty come through with the only stellar guest appearances; the former providing welcomed respite with a chirpy female vocal on Afterthought, whilst Yachty returns to his bubblegum-pop roots on the glistening Pretty Boy. It would have been nice to see some 88rising label mates here however, MODUS is crying out for a Rich Brian rap feature and NIKI could have brought her signature woozy charm to 777. Despite the disappointing features, Joji is talented enough to carry the album without their help. After all, there are only five on an eighteen-track album.
Overall, Nectar is a mesmerising sophomore release from an artist who is clearly only just getting started. Standing toe to toe in quality with huge releases such as The Weeknd’s chart-dominating After Hours and Bryson Tiller’s hypnotic and psychotic Trap Soul, Joji has progressed from a YouTuber dabbling in music on the side, to an R&B heartthrob whose music will shape a generations taste.
Nectar has the potential to be to this generation of kids what My Chemical Romance was to the 2000's youth; a deeply emotional album which whilst appealing to adolescence, also manages to be deeply mature. An encouraging and enthralling effort from the Japanese-American singer.
Words by: Alex Newport
Edited by: Olivia Stock