Music

Djo Refuses to ‘DECIDE’ on a Genre in Sophomore Album Release

Peter Stuart | The PhoenixDjo's explores millennial burnout, the cost of fame and social media addiction in his sophomore album.

Joe Keery’s fast-rising music persona, Djo, keeps getting stranger with his sophomore release, “DECIDE.” 

“DECIDE” is full of psychedelic influence, but it verges more heavily into electronic territory than Djo’s previous work. Keery’s playful use of vocal filters and throwback ‘80s synths create a sound listeners might feel like they can swim in. 

The sound gets dark and heavy in “Change” and “Half Life,” but Djo strips back the bass, slowing down to highlight his singing chops in dreamy choruses. 

Keery, best known for portraying Steve Harrington in “Stranger Things,” released his debut project “Twenty Twenty” in 2019. “Twenty Twenty” sits somewhere between psychedelic-rock and dreamy shoegaze — a refreshing, unique sound in a one-note indie-rock world. “DECIDE” pushes the envelope even further, bringing Djo’s work to weirdly wonderful new heights. 

The lyrics to Djo’s tracks match his musical choices. “DECIDE” is full of songs about millennial burnout, the cost of fame, social media addiction and the nonstop news cycle. Keery’s lyricism isn’t subtle but neither is any other part of his music. His tracks are bold, loud and colorful — a hallmark of the “Djo” character Keery uses as a stage persona. 

“You think these people really care for you? / You really think they will be there for you? / Plugged in / That’s a half life,”  Keery sings on “Half Life,” a dystopian warning about the future — or present — of the internet. 

Despite its melancholic themes, “DECIDE” dances between fatalism and optimism. A few bright spots like “I Want Your Video” and “Change” make it Djo’s grooviest existential crisis yet.  

Clocking in at about 36-minutes, “DECIDE” wastes little time. It takes off at a sprint with “Runner,” a mostly electronic track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Gloom,” which was released in July 2022 as a single before the full album, lives up to its title. 

“These people stress me out, I’m ready to go / I’m growing quite unwell, I’m ready to go,” Keery sings over a panicked baseline. 

Keery reopens the monologue about his struggles with fame in “Fool.” It’s a short, upbeat and haunting exploration of what it’s like to be viewed as a source of entertainment rather than a person. “On and On” keeps the nihilistic mood with all-too-relatable lines about “doomscrolling” — a modern phenomenon where internet users feel unable to stop themselves from scrolling endlessly through worsening news. 

“End of Beginning” is a relaxing change of pace, paying homage to Chicago where Keery graduated from DePaul University in 2014. 

One of the album’s most hopeful songs, “Change,” was the first single released from the album in June 2022 — an excellent call. It has every staple of the style Djo has established so far: a catchy hook, swelling buildups and a head-bobbing bassline. 

“Something’s happening to me / a change that I can see / I thought that change was bad / but you have changed my mind,” Keery sings. 

The penultimate track is “Figure You Out,” one of the most technically impressive songs on the album. “Figure You Out” is full of gentle, distinct transitions and layered sounds that build a heavy musical atmosphere. It’s a little cryptic, but it’s a must-dance track nonetheless.  

The album closes on “Slither,” a short, ominous outro — hopefully with the promise of more Djo coming soon.

Djo’s record is innovative, charming and genuinely thought-provoking — it decidedly doesn’t suffer from a sophomore album slump. It combines whimsical and nostalgic synth reminiscent of 8-bit music with psychedelic soundscapes like those of contemporary indie artists Tame Impala or Post Animal.

Despite some of its departures from the sound that Djo established with “Twenty Twenty,” “DECIDE” is a stunning creative project that promises prodigious potential for the rest of Keery’s musical career. 

“DECIDE” is available now on all music streaming platforms

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