Joji’s long-awaited debut album, BALLADS 1, has finally arrived and is a breathtaking work of electronic, R&B, and hip-hop influence. An expansive 12-tracks of melancholic expression, exploration, and production, Joji has left us with a newfound sonic world to explore in the days to come and months to come. And while we spend the coming days unpacking everything BALLADS 1 has to offer, these are five immediate takeaways from Joji’s stunning debut.
It stays true to its name.
When Joji originally announced the title of his yet-to-be-released debut album would be BALLADS 1, it was hard not to be slightly skeptical of what was to come. After all, this was the man who made a name for himself on the Internet as an over-the-top satirical figure, so the last thing we were expecting was a collection of slow ballads. After all, ballads are regaled to a generation who derived pleasure from the sentimentality of sappy lyrics atop maudlin piano arrangement. However, in and throughout BALLADS 1, Joji modernizes the term ballad to create a glitchy and haunting form of emotional, music expression.
It is Joji’s most personal project to date.
BALLADS 1 is not only deserving of applause for its wonderfully put-together soundscape of glitchy piano samples and blown-out reverberant production that result in one of the most fascinating sonic backdrops this year. It deserves acclaim for the way in which it showcases Joji’s growth as a lyricist. The emotion is palpable throughout the album but is especially felt in vulnerable moments like in “ATTENTION” where Joji opens up about his fears, singing “I don’t wanna die so young / Got so much to do,” and throughout “NO FUN,” which details the inner thought processes and outward effects of dealing with depression.
While an emotional and sonic leap for Joji, BALLADS 1 never one sacrifices its impressive sense of musicality. Within the melancholy, Joji harnesses a dynamic sense of fluidity to deliver a collection of songs that feel like the very definition of a slow-burn. For instance, there’s “Test Drive,” which utilizes primarily hip-hop production to create a soundscape that is equally as fitting for ruminations on a failing relationship, as it would be to kick off a neon sign-illuminated trek through a city you’re not too familiar with. Joji keeps up this impressive duality throughout BALLADS 1, never faltering even in its closing track “I’LL SEE YOU IN 40,” which sways back and forth from pulsating electronic track to acoustic island lullaby.
The features are fire.
Joji’s BALLADS 1 may pale in comparison to today’s feature-heavy rap and R&B albums, but each of its features adds a crucial element to what makes this such a striking debut. “CAN’T GET OVER YOU” sees leftfield hip-hop artist Clams Casino delivering an array of minimalistic of production for the most upbeat and arguably joyous track on BALLADS 1. A couple tracks later, Joji links up with WEDIDIT collective producers Shlohmo and D33J “WHY AM I STILL IN LA,” a sobering track that blends experimental electronica with rock influences. However, what is likely to be BALLADS 1’s most prolific collaboration is found in “R.I.P.” wherein Joji once again joins forces with Trippie Red for a standout track that sees the two artists at their prime.
It is distinctively the work of Joji.
At the end of the day, what makes BALLADS 1 such a phenomenal project is how much of Joji can be felt in every chord, unique production element, and word choice. It is a somber expression of the inner machinations of Joji’s mind, as well as a candid reflection of his personality. So, within the great emotional expanse also exists moments of profound characteristic humor. This can be felt particularly in the macabre, meme-worthy music videos that led up to BALLADS 1 wherein Joji brought energy sword Sunday and mythological creatures to life, and in lyrics where one can’t help but find comedy intertwined with tragedy. For that is what BALLADS 1 is–a spellbinding expression of sadness, humor, and beauty.