By Ethan Bloomfield, Contributor
Key Tracks: “Run”, “Afterthought”, “Like You Do”
Nectar is the highly anticipated, second full-length release of lo-fi and R&B artist George Miller, aka Joji. Dropping almost two full years after Ballads 1, Joji takes his signature sound to a much cleaner, more focused and emotionally mature place on Nectar.
The first track, “Ew”, sets up the rest of the album’s mood and intensity. In its piercingly high vocals, which are set to a soft beat of fuzzy drums and rumbling bass, the lyrics portray a certain loneliness: “Quietly still / In a lie / Oh Goodnight / I don’t mind”. His bittersweet crooning fades into a wave of piano and violin, coming to a beautiful crescendo before cutting off entirely.
“MODUS” is a classic Joji track, containing interspersed raps and singing sections over piano-focused beats. However, the production on the song shows a clear improvement from his Ballads and In Tongues days. The album then makes a lighthearted tonal shift, running through some happier beats on songs like “Tick Tock”, “Daylight”, and “Gimme Love”. These are the radio hits, but their commercial viability doesn’t make the sunniness and verve in the tracks any less genuine. These lighter moments are very welcome, as Joji can skillfully produce a number-one banger just as well as a soulful, introspective ballad.
That being said, Joji is known for ballads, and he has no problem giving the listener one thoughtful piece of music after another. “Run”, the lead single on Nectar, is a moody track centered on the enchantment Joji feels with the person he desires and how she no longer feels the same. The ominous guitar and trademark high-pitched vocals throughout the track compliment the emotional distress and desperation that Joji feels, coming to a fever-pitch with a heartfelt solo that echoes Joji’s wailing frustrations. “Run” separates this album from his past music, and similar to “MODUS”, the growth apparent in the production quality, instrumentation and vocal ability really starts to shine both during and following this song.
There are few guest appearances on Nectar, but artist features like Omar Apollo on “High Hopes” meld with Joji’s particular style in a huge way. The song feels like floating carefree through a city, as fluffy vocals and a background of radio noises swell. It’s a cloudy, spacey track, full of interesting percussion, plucky strings and the old-school Joji vibe of years past.
“Pretty Boy” features Lil Yachty and harkens back to Joji’s Pink Season joke rap days with funny ad-libs, blown-out beats and not-so-serious lyrics about flexing, living in “the hills” and being very handsome. Conversely, “Afterthought” features New Zealand singer-songwriter Benee and perfectly captures how subtle detachment turns into separation, as dreamy vocals and a melody-driven core convey an unbridgeable gap, both spiritually and physically.
The final leg of the album is the most hard-hitting. Conjuring images of fast cars and neon lights in the Los Angeles sky, “777” tells the story of a one-night stand through catchy rhythms and retro sounds. “Mr. Hollywood” is a more formulaic track about Joji’s love interest missing him as he continues life on the road. “Reanimator” amps it up with sci-fi warbles, vocal effects and a verse from Yves Tumor to fade the track out into the emotional high point of the album on the last two tracks.
The last two tracks are where this album really shines. While a couple of the tracks on this album are more forgettable, like “Upgrade” or “NITROUS”, “Like You Do” is the most thoughtful and perhaps best song on the album. It tells of Joji’s loneliness in the limelight and his longing for just one connection that feels worthwhile.
Finally, “Your Man” is a perfect ending to the album, sounding like the last song of the night as one walks out of the club with a throbbing headache and tired legs. It’s a dance number, but just barely; with echo-y vocals and simple lyrics, the song ends with Joji’s voice overlaid with a vocoder, singing “Have you ever loved? Would you go again? / Don’t be down when it’s over baby, yeah / I’ll be your man.” He’s almost winking at the audience as the album comes to a close.
Throughout its 18 songs, Nectar possesses a maturity in its lyricism that is unlike its predecessors. Joji demonstrates a creative side of himself yet unseen in his music, and Nectar is the direct result of that. Although a couple of tracks fall by the wayside, this album shows that Joji isn’t done growing, inventing and flourishing in his style.