Review: Djo’s Hypnotic, Confident Debut ‘Twenty Twenty’

Twenty Twenty - Djo
Joe Keery solidifies new solo identity as Djo with his colorful psych-rock/pop debut ‘Twenty Twenty’.

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Twenty Twenty - Djo

Twenty Twenty – Djo Album Art

It often seems that the 1960s have become the wellspring for the entirety of popular music, manifesting in ways large and small across the last five decades. Of course, many practitioners of its jangly guitar sounds and nasally-but-cool vocals have been derivative to a fault. One Beatles sound-alike is exchanged for another. More rarely, musicians arrive who are able to take 60s psychedelic rock ‘n roll tropes and twist them, giving way to the success of groups like Tame Impala and Chicago band Post Animal.

Post Animal’s former guitarist Joe Keery has landed himself in one such position. Back in July, the actor/musician posted a dark photo of himself with the cryptic caption, “tomorrow.” A few days later, he unveiled his project Djo and released “Roddy”, a self-assured and earwormy debut. Later came “Chateau (Feel Alright),” “Mortal Projections,” and finally, the album Twenty Twenty. The album’s rollout was unobtrusive and almost self-conscious – the press photos feature a mustachioed Keery in dark glasses with minimal captions about where to find the music. And yet, the album is confident and colorful, speaking for itself.

Listen: Twenty Twenty – Djo

Keery’s music is a more chilled out, relaxed version of Post Animal’s psychedelic rock sound, and it’s as much a product of a guy who grew up in the video game era as one who grew up listening to 1960s rock ‘n roll. The opening track (after the intro), “Personal Lies,” is tightly coiled and deceptively simple with whispers of Clapton’s “Cocaine,” while songs like “Total Control” and “BNBG” feature washy, buzzy production à la Washed Out or Future Islands.

It’s clear from the outset that Keery’s writing nothing to underestimate. Across the album’s twelve tracks, Keery lays the groundwork for a career in music that’s more than just a side project. Perhaps the most enticing thing about his music is its sense of humor, which is expertly juxtaposed with the high level of proficiency in his both writing and playing. It almost seems that in each song, there’s a wink at the camera in the form of a goofy guitar lick or a bizarre vocal effect. Just as Keery’s former band don’t take themselves too seriously (see their music videos for “Ralphie” and “Gelatin Mode“), it seems that neither does he. And this isn’t to say that the music itself shouldn’t be taken seriously – it’s an excellent debut. But in allowing himself to have fun with his art, he invites to listener to do so as well.

Djo © Simone Faoro

Djo © Simone Faoro

Keery weaves through different styles and influences throughout the album. There’s a little George Harrison guitar here, a little of The Zombies’ harmonies there. Occasionally, his melodies even bear resemblance to of Montreal’s earlier work. While it’s clear that he’s distilled many influences into his debut, it’s also clear that he’s an original. The album never lies flat. Though there are several mid-tempo songs (the off-kilter circus of “Tentpole Shangrila,” the sweet love song “Chateau (Feel Alright),” and the spare closer “Mutual Future (Repeat)”), there are also songs like “Flash Mountain,” an uptempo 80s dance-inspired number which seems to pay homage to his time in Post Animal. His melodies aren’t predictable or monotone, which can be seen in some of Kevin Barnes’ later work, or others in the style. Instead, they’re colorful and strange, always attempting to get an eyebrow quirk or smile of surprise from the listener. It’s a debut that proves you should be paying attention to his music – not just his new haircut.

While there is no Djo tour planned at the moment, keep an eye out for upcoming show announcements.

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Twenty Twenty

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Mariel Fechik is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois. She works for as a Fiction/AV/Teen Assistant at a library. She is the singer for the band Fay Ray, writes poetry, and also writes music reviews for Third Coast Review. She loves sea creatures and plants.