Review Summary: would you like to dance with me? and can I cry on your shoulder?
For an album so uniform and straightforward, it’s surprisingly tricky to properly analyze Ballads 1
. For fear of sounding like a broken record, I’ll put the artist’s past behind; it’s safe to say that by now Joji wants to be considered 100% serious in his music endeavors, yet unlike the placid In Tongues
he is no longer battling for this approval. This is an album sure of itself, a watery concoction of soothingly sweet R&B blues and a bitter shot of misery thrown in, careless for how strong the mixer may taste afterward. Luckily, this blend of sadboi croons and sleek, flowy production is easy to consume (almost too much so). This is all to say the record is masterful in its lense of downtempo pop flairs and confident in its place within the music realm.
Take the opener ‘ATTENTION’ for example; the piano-led beat is subtle at first, letting Joji introduce his recurring theme of love-stricken doubtfulness. A quick turn in production elevates this track when the intentionally blurry bass flies in, consuming Joji’s own words with its snarl and fuzz. It’s convincingly catchy, allowing for possibly the best 1-2 punch on the album as the fluttering, chillwave single ‘SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK’ quickly follows with a newfound sense of sparkling business and clarity, allowing for a naturally developing climax to overwhelm its listener. The song falls in between a strange Venn diagram of anthemic pop and cry-inducing club music. And although the album does slip in some questionable jabs of radio wave insertions (most notably Trippie Redd’s ‘R.I.P.’ feature), I’d argue it’s only natural considering Joji’s sound and persona.
To say the album is simply just a pop excursion would be discrediting its risks and originality, however. Songs like ‘WANTED U’ and ‘COME THRU’ dive into darker territories, featuring dirt ridden emo guitar riffs and low-end brooding bass lines respectively. In his arrangements, Joji continues to expand his own style through varying structures and contrasts of instrumental passages. Aided by glitch hop producer Shlohmo, ‘WHY AM I STILL IN LA’ bookends a chugging, distorted guitar/bass crescendo with softly sung falsettos, allowing Joji to shine within foreign grounds. Even the long-winded closer experiments in the same manner, this time having two ukelele passages combed with Joji’s own distorted vocals glued endearingly to each side of a Slow Magic-inspired downtempo, future bass adventure. Its psychedelic-kissed, spacious production soothingly fits the downtrodden vocal style Joji often employs and proves to be a solemn end to the 12-song album. Ballads 1
doesn’t hide anything with its title; the entire album feasts on the slow, melancholy form and sometimes attempts to mangle it for its own benefits. Its simplicity allows it to discover and thrive within safety, and for an artist previously in need of defining himself, this is a compelling demonstration of what Joji truly sounds like.