Album Review: SMITHEREENS by Joji
Written by Emilia Wisniewski
February 10, 2023
George Miller, better known by his stage name Joji, is a great talent. His underground 2015 project Chloe Burbank Vol. 1 showed that he had a lot to offer, but was also somewhat surprising considering his former raunchy persona “Filthy Frank” on YouTube. Although most of the tracks were demos and heavily sampled, it showed Miller’s knack for producing lof-fi beats that offered something new to the landscape.
Joji signed with record label 88rising in 2017 and soon released his first EP, In Tongues. The short project took the lo-fi elements from Chloe Burbank Vol. 1 but evolved it in a much more polished and soulful way. His subsequent projects—BALLADS 1 in 2018 and his first album Nectar in 2020—carried this established sound in all kinds of directions, delving into R&B, trap, and pop.
Though, Joji’s projects haven’t been perfect. His long lasting flaws, unfortunately, cannot be more apparent in his newest project SMITHEREENS released on November 4. Although there are gorgeous highlights on this album, the short run time, lackluster lyricism, and the overall unfinished feeling of the whole project leaves a lot to be desired.
SMITHEREENS opens up with the leading single—arguably the best track Joji has released so far—“Glimpse of Us” that takes the listener through the feeling of longing for an ex partner, while in a relationship with someone else. It’s a novel topic to write a song about and Joji does it in a way that is very emotionally moving. Piano is the only instrument used in the track, but the variation it provides from the verses to the chorus strings the listener on a journey through the nearly four-minute piece, with the bridge being a memorable highlight.
“Feeling Like The End” comes afterwards and its elements differ greatly from the previous track, but it’s a great diversion no less. A mostly electronic beat, the song introduces another side to the project that still follows the melancholic subject matter of past relationships. The track’s instrumental is definitely its strong suit, as Joji’s lyrics are basic and the song’s runtime is unexpectedly short. More could have been done with the song, but it is still pretty solid.
Another highlight on the project, “Die For You”, is dreamy and stellar. It brings both instrumental features of the last two tracks into this well-produced single that is now easily a highlight in Joji’s discography. The track has a lot of variation throughout and is one of the songs that showcases Joji’s vocal development. Perhaps more apparent in his previous songs like “Run”, it’s important to note how far he has come sonically since 2015, or even since In Tongues. “Die For You” definitely deserves the love it has been receiving.
“Before The Day Is Over” doesn’t reveal anything that listeners haven’t already heard. It’s pretty and pensive, but the song does not have a lot to note. Though, its back half diverts from the piano into a trap breakdown which provides some nice differentiation. The track runs for three and a half minutes but it still feels like one of the more underdeveloped songs on the project.
But when the project started to feel one-note, “Dissolve” came in with a guitar instrumental and auto-tuned vocals. The combination of both of those elements does not mesh super well together, as it could have felt more heart-felt if Joji had his raw vocals on the track, it’s overall a refreshing track that still has the heartbreak theme attached to it.
The album really takes a turn, however, when “NIGHT RIDER” comes afterward. It begins with a very bass- and trap-heavy instrumental that is reminiscent of most tracks off BALLADS 1. It’s an unexpected diversion from what the last five songs have built up and shows Joji’s trying to do a lot at once, which does not bode well for this very short project.
“BLAHBLAHBLAH DEMO” matches the energy presented in the last track, with a more upbeat melody, and introduces some interesting instrumentation, but it does not fit well into the project. Even with the switch, the track would have been better suited on another project.
While having interludes on such a succinct album seems ill fitting, “YUKON (INTERLUDE)” can be excused for how hard-hitting it is. The second single from the project, Joji’s vocals dance with the instrumental in a way that has not happened on the album yet. It is the outstanding track from the latter half of the album.
Ending with just over 24 minutes, “1AM FREESTYLE” is a fine track that closes SMITHEREENS. It blends sounds from both halves of the project into this final song, and it is a track that does grow with each listen, especially with how the project seems to go all over the place.
An album’s impression on a listener depends on not only how each track performs individually, but also how those tracks interact with each other. Singles that are great on their own perform differently when compared to the surrounding tracks on the album it's from. While it's obvious some of Joji’s tracks from SMITHEREENS will transcend beyond the project, a lot of it will most likely be forgotten about.
Online, the project had a lot of mixed reviews. Some critics, like
Medium, complain of the short runtime and unfinished nature while others such as Clash Magazine praise the lo-fi ambience and different elements each track brings.
Joji is a great talent. He can produce great instrumentals that stick with a listener for a long time. SMITHEREENS, as lackluster as it turned out to be, was the last project Joji produced under 88rising. This could be great for the artist; with rumors that the label did not treat him well and put a lot of restrictions on him, fans could hear a whole new side to Joji in the near future.