In early 2013, the video that we all know today as “The Harlem Shake” went viral. The outlandish phenomenon was started by George Miller, better known by his music moniker, Joji. Five years later, Joji is doing things a little differently: his art involves singing, producing and performing. After his unadorned first project In Tongues – EP, he had a lot to prove with his debut album, BALLADS 1.
The album kicks off with a piano loop underlaid by a low-fi beat. This sound aligns with Joji’s idea of a modern-day version of a ballad. Towards the halfway point of the song the audio becomes fuzzy and muffled, ultimately disrupting the flow of the song. However, the 26-year-old Japanese artist does have his moment of honesty: “I don’t want to die so young/ I got so much to do”, he says, which has become a tragically relevant line in light of so many young artists’ deaths. Nevertheless, the opening track of the project, “ATTENTION”, is a microcosm of the album as a whole: a potential-filled project that is wholly inconsistent.
For the most part, BALLADS 1 is moody and dark, but it fails to go beyond stagnancy, namely on songs like “TEST DRIVE” and “YEAH RIGHT” where intriguing production can’t overcome the lack of excitement that Joji brings. Combining self-deprecating lyrics with lo-fi feels, Joji struggles to explore how to make himself stand out in the music world. The bubbly “CAN’T GET OVER YOU (feat. Clams Casino)” and Post Malone-esque “NO FUN” are some of the album’s brighter tracks, mainly because of Joji’s experimentation on these songs.
The album’s standout moment and arguably the best track Joji has put out since his emergence is “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK”, a powerful song that feels as vintage as it does modern. Coming in as the project’s second track, the valiant take on a sad love song showcases immaculate production that transcends the confinement of a single genre.
The few unique tracks on BALLADS 1 are a testament to Joji’s talent and willingness to try new things, which gives listeners hope for his upcoming work despite the dull moments on his debut project. Nevertheless, if “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” is any indication of Joji’s ability to create powerful records, his work here is clearly not done yet.