Joe Keery’s music project Djo releases sophomore album

Written By Rachel Ross, Co-Features/A&E Editor

5/5 Globes

I tend to gravitate more towards older music than new releases. The newer artists that I follow faithfully are few and far between. However, one of those exceptions is indie artist Djo, who I hold to the same high regard that I do my beloved 80’s favorites, and consider to be a brilliant beacon of hope for modern music. If you think you haven’t heard of Djo before, it’s likely you have, just under a different name. Djo is the musical persona of actor Joe Keery, most notable for his role as Steve “The Hair” Harrington in Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” In 2019, he burst onto the scene with his debut album, “Twenty Twenty,” which has since become one of my go-to albums. I’ve listened to it religiously since its release. So naturally, I’ve been highly anticipating Djo’s sophomore album, titled “Decide,” which was just released on September 16. 

I quickly became a fan of Keery when I started watching Stranger Things, and begun following his music. However, I would like to clarify that my feelings on him as an actor have no bearing on my feelings on him as a musician; I take my music very seriously, and I wouldn’t boast about or recommend his if it wasn’t any good. I have a lot of respect for the way Keery has gone about his releases; he could have pulled an Eddie Murphy (Yes, Eddie Murphy released music during the 80’s) and plastered his name everywhere to pick up press. But he didn’t. He built something totally separate, and let the music speak for itself, and I admire that very much. 

All of that being said and established, “Decide” is an incredibly worthy second entry in Djo’s growing discography. It absolutely exceeded my high expectations, drawing from the highest successes of the first album and fledging them out further into an even more definitive, defined sound. It feels like a very natural evolution from the first album. Of course this is merely speculation, but it exudes the impression and confidence that Djo has gotten closer to the sound he’s envisioned from the beginning. Whereas the first album featured mostly slower, melodically simpler entries, this album leans way further into a deeply layered funk element, a sound which saw the most definitive introduction on his 2020 single release “Keep Your Head Up.” This album exists in a perfect sweet spot; it’s not wildly different enough that it feels like a totally different artist, keeping a similar lyrical style and flair for techno elements, but it also doesn’t feel like a regurgitation of “Twenty Twenty.” It’s the second lightning strike- further proof of Djo’s talents.  

The album opens with the syncopated, pulsing beats of “Runner.” It’s an excellent choice for an opener, quickly introducing the listener to the new style of melodic layering that carries the album. It has a lot of ebbs and flows, speeding up and slowing down frequently, but in a manner that feels very controlled. This was something Djo experimented with on his first album; whereas I felt indifferent about it before, it’s evolved enough on this album, and particularly on this song, that I feel decidedly more positive about it. This quickly became one of my favorite tracks; it’s very compositionally intricate and catchy, especially the slower sections. 

Next up is “Gloom,” the album’s second single. When I heard it for the first time, I recall marking it as the shift in a different direction: it still sounded like Djo, but evolved towards that more definitive sound. This song has an intense “Talking Heads” quality about it. Especially the end when Djo talks through the lyrics in a very David Byrne-esque way. It stands out as being one of the most hyper songs on the album, with a much faster backing than the majority of others. It’s also one of the most lyrically odd, yet relatable, in its exploration of hyping up to go somewhere, then wanting to leave immediately upon getting there. 

“Half Life,” the album’s third track, starts off slow before bursting to life with a roar of drums and synths. I really like the backings on this one; it has ebbs and flows like “Runner,” but they fall into each other just as cohesively. I especially like the end; it feels a bit Tears for Fears to me. 

“Fool” marks a bit of a slow down for the album, compared to the energy of the first three tracks. Its backbone is a funky drum beat that persists all throughout; mixed with the syncopated synths, it creates a very catchy, danceable melody. 

I consider “On and On” to be one of the more lackluster entries. Compositionally it’s fine, not bad, but not stellar either. It’s really the lyrics that I find kind of flat, being about cell phone addiction. It feels like kind of a shallow, low hanging fruit analysis compared to most of the other songs in his discography. 

“End of Beginning” is probably my favorite song on the album. It has a very melancholy yet powerful quality about it that I find myself drawn towards. The drums, synth, and guitar blend together to create a mood that pairs excellently with the lyrics. I also think it’s Djo’s strongest vocal performance on the album. It shows off his skills better than any other. 

“I Want Your Video” is another favorite of mine. It has more of a pop quality to it than the majority of tracks. I love the chorus, and the blend of vocals and backing, with their masterfully executed rises and falls. 

“Climax” is one of the album’s slower, more melodically consistent entries. It has a very rich backing throughout the majority, which pairs perfectly with the voice manipulation utilized on the track; it almost has a mysterious quality about it. Definitely one of the simpler songs on the album, but certainly not worthy of underestimation for it. 

“Change,” the album’s first single, is definitely one of the strongest entries. It has a very upbeat, catchy melody, especially at the chorus. It has a very funky quality to it, with a plethora of punchy synths and drums. Not only do I commend the decision to release this as the first single off of its strength, but also for the bridge it creates between Djo’s last single and the direction of the new album. With a similar compositional style, it felt like a good way to ease listeners in and make the transition more seamless. 

“Is That All It Takes” is a twenty second interlude. It’s fine. As with most interludes, it could be removed and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. 

“Go For It” stands out most for its opening. It has a very gloomy, mystifying nature that feels reminiscent of the 80’s new wave sound that I love. This sound remains all throughout, even as the song becomes increasingly faster, which is another characteristic that I find interesting. The second chorus is faster than the first and yet, it works very well. It feels very seamless. 

“Figure You Out” sees a return of the David Bryne-esque lyric delivery at the start, which evolves into notably strong vocals. The backing on this one is very twinkly, almost dreamlike, becoming even more  so as it builds throughout. 

The album concludes with “Slither,” which feels reminiscent of “Gorillaz” for me. It has a very intense drum line and darker, gritier tone than most of the other tracks. At just a minute and fifty seconds in length, it offers a quick last taste to finish off the album. 

With a collection of masterfully composed and layered tracks, featuring thought provoking lyrics and impressive vocals, “Decide” is an exceptional new addition to Djo’s discography. It’s sure to be more than satisfying to established fans and enticing to new listeners. I recommend this album with much confidence; it’s my current go to whenever I’m listening to music, and is sure to remain a prominent part of my rotation as time goes on.