Sep 26, 2022
By Mariel Fechik
“People never change/but I have to try,” Djo sings on “Runner,” the first track on his new album DECIDE. The line echoes the title of the album’s lead single, “Change,” which finds its speaker catching flashes of a new direction his life could take. Djo is the musical persona of actor and musician Joe Keery, whose life weaves between playing music festivals and filming Netflix’s Stranger Things and Hollywood movies. Aptly, DECIDE is a record that see-saws between styles and emotions, taking inspiration from late-’70s New Wave one moment and ’80s pop the next, celebrating change in one song and mourning past possibilities in the next.
Previously a guitarist and singer in the Chicago-based indie rock band Post Animal, Keery’s solo music has also tended toward their psychedelic rock inspirations. His solo debut, 2019’s Twenty Twenty, was full of swirling melodies and woozy guitar lines, with a mid-tempo groove perfect for summer drives with the windows down. But DECIDE sees Keery’s talent as a songwriter expand outward. The album is more confident and decisive than his debut.
The aesthetic surrounding the record’s release has been that of ’80s graphics, infomercials, and Keery’s mustachioed face in goofy fish-eye photos. Typically performing with his band in matching wigs and sunglasses, Keery has frequently leaned into comedic bits as part of the marketing for his music. But the songs on DECIDE, despite sometimes leaning into comedy themselves, have a decidedly weightier—and seemingly more personal—tone.
One such track includes the hazy, funky “Half Life,” which finds Keery grappling with the strange nature of fame (something he’s referenced before in many interviews): “I fight the urge to search my name/There’s a better me, I swear,” the song starts. “God, you’re a fool/You think these people really care for you?” he sings in another verse, also referencing the parasocial relationships we form through the internet. The R&B tinged “On and On” touches on doom scrolling and the falsities of social media, while the Devo-esque “Gloom” speaks of IRL social anxiety and exhaustion.
The true standout is the effervescent power ballad “End of Beginning,” a song about past lives and alternate histories. “When I’m back in Chicago, I feel it/Another version of me,” Keery sings over the chorus of shimmering synths and rhythmic guitar. “I wave goodbye to the end of beginning.” Keery left Chicago and his band Post Animal when he was cast in Stranger Things, at the time having no idea how much the show would take off. The song is wistful, sitting somewhere between melancholy and fondness—it’s entirely universal, despite its specificity. DECIDE is a record about cycles and breaking them, about regrets and new beginnings, and finding the beauty in change. It doesn’t suggest decisiveness; it commands it. (www.djomusic.com)
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