Djo Looks Back to the Future on Neon-Hued 'DECIDE'

BY Daniel Hartmann Published Sep 15, 2022

In 2019, Joe Keery dropped Twenty Twenty, his debut record under the moniker Djo. He let down his legendary Steve Harrington curls and donned a '70s mustache and wide-rimmed sunglasses — every bit the pastiche of a psychedelic indie rock star. While Keery's choice to make psych-influenced music was not shocking (he was formerly the drummer for Post Animal) his decision to move away from his now-iconic visual persona and make experimental psychedelia was a bit of a creative risk — the result was an album of trippy guitar riffs and spacey vocals that received its fair share of Tame Impala comparisons. Three years later, he returns with yet another reinvention; while his curious, honest lyricism and propensity for risk-taking remain, DECIDE takes his Djo project to entirely new places. 

DECIDE is an '80s pop aping, hook-heavy synthwave rollercoaster that doubles as both an ode to retro gaming and a meditation on self-actualization. Opening track "Runner"  is an explosive introduction to Keery's new sound and his ongoing inner dilemma: "People never change, but I have to try," he sings, seeking some sense of agency in the face of easily-accepted nihilism. Throughout the album, Keery questions himself: is he trying enough? Is he an empathetic person? Will all his effort lead to anything? "On and On" is about losing faith and feeling overcome while scrolling through social media, capturing the numbing monotony and strange, isolating comforts of the endless scroll. 

In an interview with DIY in 2020, Keery talked about his love for 8-bit music and cited the soundtrack to Donkey Kong (as well as other Gameboy games from his childhood) as a creative influence. That influence is apparent on DECIDE, which leans into a Tron-inspired aesthetic that blends lush pads and heavily auto-tuned vocals with nostalgia-inducing chiptune.

"Go For It"  opens like a boss battle theme, with a bellowing bass and glitching staccato melody before transitioning into a pop ballad with an arcade-inspired beat about a fast-fading love. "Change" is a high-octane banger, combining heavily distorted synths, a thumping beat and Keery's falsetto into a heart-racing track made for soundtracking burnouts on a light bike. From the Blade Runner-inspired production on "Half Life" to the robot voice and far-out lyricism on the Strokes-esque "Climax," Keery employs his sci-fi motif to its full potential.

The Stranger Things star's roots as an entertainer are on full display throughout: he messes around with countless vocal inflections, and inhabits new characters on tracks like "Fool" and "On and On." His voice fits this groovy new direction perfectly, and he has an engaging performative presence that helps sell some of the more abstract songs.

Keery could have gone back to the alt-rock psychedelia that already earned him plaudits; instead, he took a risk and made DECIDE — a funky, sometimes goofy sci-fi odyssey with tons of twists both sonic and emotional. Hopefully, he keeps the left turns coming.

Latest Coverage