From “Harlem Shake” originator and YouTube star to R&B and lo-fi singer-songwriter, Joji’s entertainment journey has been anything but predictable. Now, with the release of his sophomore studio album, Joji demonstrates that he is certainly not finished evolving and growing as a music artist. Nectar’s soulful, floating sound encompasses expressions of longing, heartache, joy, and distress.
“Ew” opens the album with a melancholy tone that seeps into every subsequent track. This track speaks directly to a former lover, and its self-deprecating lyrics contribute to the heavy feeling of heartbreak. Its soft falsetto later gives way to an intensifying instrumental section, and as the strings and piano swell, their harmonies become ominous and unsettling.
“Sanctuary” feels more hopeful and less despondent than many of the other tracks. In an album where much of the vocal performance is in a high falsetto, the lines “Not anyone, you’re the one / More than fun, you’re the Sanctuary” stand out. Joji sings these lines in a lower register with a rich vibrato. This temporary shift in vocal delivery makes these lines sound distinctly warm and loving.
The album does feature some more upbeat, lighthearted sounds, like in “Daylight,” “Tick-Tock,” and “Gimme Love.” Yet, amidst these cheerful beats, pensive and melancholy lyrics complicate their meanings. “Gimme Love” begins with a catchy, poppy sound, but the first verse reveals a sense of woundedness. Joji sings of vivid memories that are now hurting him, preventing him from healing and moving on. About halfway through the track, the beat abruptly shifts to a slow, dreamy sound that reflects the desperate tone of the lyrics. Joji paces his delivery of the last line of the song, with each word ascending higher and higher until the last word gets wrapped up in a musical crescendo. This last line, “But I can’t let you go,” feels like a candid confession.
Joji also features other artists on the album, such as Omar Apollo, Lil Yachty, and BENEE. “Afterthought,” the collaboration with BENEE, brings in more narrative storytelling than is present in other tracks. The verses reflect on moments of tension in a past relationship while the chorus recalls the joy associated with that lover. The lines “So lost in these diamonds / So lost in this paradise” speak to the beautiful memories, but they are immediately followed by the line “Don’t speed on that highway.” Perhaps it is cautionary. Joji may want to relive memories to be reminded of what blissful love feels like; but sometimes remembering how happy you used to be just intensifies how lonely you feel now.
Joji brings the album to a close with a powerful ballad. In the second to last track, “Like You Do,” Joji’s full vocals are offset by intermittent, unsettling instrumental harmonies that reinforce the desperation that comes through the lyrics.
Nectar has been critiqued for some inconsistency in instrumentals, as well as a lack of complexity in the latter part of the album. Despite this commentary, however, I think most of the songs carry a valuable genuineness that feels incredibly comforting. Joji sadness, interspersed with tainted sunny memories, serves as a reminder that heartache can feel inescapable and draining. But everyone goes through that sometimes. Nectar reassures us that these feelings are human.