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Joji’s 'Smithereens' is unfortunately underwhelming

Joji is an artist I’ve greatly admired for nearly a decade now. Before George Miller made serious music under the stagename Joji, he posted satirical comedic YouTube videos under the name “TVFilthyFrank” that I used to watch religiously as a middle-schooler. On the “Filthy Frank” YouTube channel, he would release comedy-rap music videos under the stage name “Pink Guy” that, while crude and vulgar, showed off his musical potential. As Miller’s 7.8 million subscribers grew up, so did his creative output. Miller retired from his career as a YouTuber and comedian in 2017 and moved on to creating serious music under the name Joji, ultimately releasing his latest album, “Smithereens” Nov. 4. 

Joji’s music has always covered heartbreak and relationships, characterized by a lofi R&B melody. While his comedy music under the “Pink Guy” alias was rap, Joji has settled into singing quite well. His growth over his first two albums as a musical artist and as a singer-songwriter has been impressive, to say the least. His 2018 studio album, “Ballads 1,” while carried by hits such as “Slow Dancing in the Dark” and “Yeah Right,” left a lot of room for growth. Joji’s 2020 studio album, “Nectar,” was a big step up. His growth into a vocalist with grandiose production elements complemented his lyrics that painted a moody atmosphere in his songs When Joji announced his third studio album, “Smithereens,” I was beyond excited to see his next evolution as an artist.

“Smithereens” was supported with the leading single, “Glimpse of Us,” which was the perfect single for Joji to drum up hype for his album. The song is beautiful, both melodically and lyrically, telling the story of someone who has moved on into a new relationship, yet in moments of intimacy realizes that they still long for their old lover. The music video juxtaposes the cinematic music with roughly-edited camcorder footage of a man spiraling into depression, making for a jarring, but truly beautiful viewing experience. “Glimpse of Us” set my expectations high for Joji to experiment with narratives in his discography’s lyricism that has, up to this point, been fairly barebones.

To my dismay, I was underwhelmed with the mere 24-minute runtime of “Smithereens.” The length isn’t a bad thing by itself, however, it’s shorter than both of his previous albums — “Nectar” ran for over 53 minutes. However, rather than using the 24-minute runtime as a way of avoiding overstaying its welcome, I found that “Smithereens'' actually found a way to understay its welcome. Usually, the biggest compliment you can give a piece of media is that it left you wanting more. “Smithereens” left me wanting more because it didn’t give a lot to begin with.

“Smithereens” is split into two discs with five tracks on the first disc and four on the second. At this point, I’m unable to determine the artistic reason why the album is split in half. The titles of all the songs in the second half are stylized in all caps, whereas the first half is not, which leads me to believe that there may be some tonal or stylistic shift between the two parts. Yet, that is not the case, as the subject matter of every song feels very similar. It didn’t appear to me that there was any reason beyond aesthetics why the album should be split into two discs. With the already-short runtime, this left the content per disc to feel minimal.

Aside from “Glimpse of Us,” “Smithereens” is unfortunately an album without many definite standout moments. I loved “Die For You,” with its moody melody, and Joji’s incredible vocal performance, and I’ll definitely revisit this song. I also thought “Dissolve” had a nice guitar riff with Joji’s autotune serving an interesting melodic use. “NIGHTRIDER” was a more fast-paced song, which was welcome amongst Joji’s characteristic lofi music. However, the rest of the tracklist was forgettable. Most of the songs were not particularly interesting on their own despite Joji’s immense vocal talent. The instrumentals for many of the tracks, particularly on the second disc, bring nothing fascinating to the table which led to an unmemorable listen.

There are definitely glimpses of potential on this album. However, aside from the few tracks that impressed me, I don’t see myself returning to this album any time soon, as much as it pains me to say that.

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