In Tongues is the first EP from producer and R&B singer Joji. This is not the first musical venture for Joji, or as his birth certificate states, George Miller. Miller is well known on YouTube as Filthy Frank, where he plays a cast of colorful characters. He explores controversial topics and internet/meme culture through crude and absurd humor, pulling ridiculous stunts for his audience to laugh or cringe at. Under the name Pink Guy, one of the characters on his channel, Miller has released two comedic albums that will go down in meme history. Now Miller is making the transition from the absurdity of Pink Guy to music with a more serious tone and feel. I started following Joji after his single “I Don’t Wanna Waste My Time,” and have been interested to see what he would pull together for his first official project.
The production on the album is incredibly sharp and hyper-specific. None of his songs are very layered, each with only a few different sounds on a typical track. However, you can tell that Miller takes a lot of time making sure that every percussive hit and every synth is received exactly the way he wants. In this way, a song can come off as stripped back and raw, or intricate and layered despite the minimal instrumentation. It is only when you listen closer that it becomes apparent that Joji is only using a couple different instruments. The trap influence is very apparent in the percussive rhythms that pop from behind the quieter melodies. The lo-fi, ambient atmosphere is universal across the EP. His singing style is very unique. The quiet and emotionless vocals feel like another instrument that either blends into or rides above the production. The two can either come together in harmony or clash awkwardly, and there are instances of both throughout the track list.
“Will He,” the first song and lead single from the EP, serves as a perfect example of a beautiful combination between the production and Joji’s singing voice. Here, Miller laments to an ex about whether or not her new significant other will perform certain actions like he did. Miller’s voice feels like it is swimming through the soft piano notes, coming up above the water to stand out, or diving below the waves and blending in perfectly. The subtle chords accent the singing fantastically. The trap percussion and ad libs should be out of place on this mellow and sentimental track, but they meld together like yin and yang. The dichotomy accents all aspects of the song. The entire ensemble does an amazing job at highlighting the yearning that is told in the lyrics. The eeriness of the accompanying music video also does a great job of heightening the mood of this cut.
“Pills” is another instance where the instrumental and vocals mesh very nicely. The song opens with a distorted string instrument, and the three/four feel keeps the song moving, preventing it from feeling like a drag. The crescendo to and decrescendo from the chorus exemplify how stripped back or layered Joji’s music can appear to be, when in reality there is not much in ways of production. Despite the lack of instrumentation, I can tell that even the clicks on the offbeat of beat two and downbeat of beat three are augmented specifically to Joji’s liking.
On tracks such as “Bitter Fuck,” nothing really works in Miller’s favor. The repeating guitar rhythm is an unsatisfying backbone for this cut, setting the song up for disappointment. Again, the trap percussion appears, but it feels out of place and awkward. The instrumentation also sits a bit above the vocals, clouding Joji’s singing. The pronunciation of the letter “k” in the word “fuck” on the first verse and outro create a staccato feel that leaves empty space on the track that could use filling. This track could use a complete overhaul. The song “Window” just feels empty. Everything about it is lowkey: the piano melody, the singing, and even the trap percussion. You could argue that this is meant to go in tandem with the hopelessness and depressive lyrics, but the song is just uninteresting.
I still find Joji to be a remarkable artist. His R&B singing is very faint and his voice is so different from other contemporary artists of the same genre. Frank Ocean, probably the largest modern R&B artist currently (if you don’t at least recognize that name, are you living under a rock?), sings more powerfully and carries more emotion in his voice, but would overpower the intricately designed beats Joji specializes in. Although this album has its highs and lows, I am nonetheless fascinated by the intricacies of Miller’s more serious music. At 16 minutes, In Tongues is just a taste of what is to come, and Miller has said that he already has another project in the works. I am excited to see how Joji’s sound will morph and what sort of artist he will evolve into.