Nowadays, it seems like musicians care more about replicating viral TikTok hits than cultivating a distinct style. But Joe Keery’s sophomore album Decide cheekily blends genres and eras to create a wholly unique sound.
Before Keery’s big break as reformed bully Steve Harrington in the Netflix original series “Stranger Things,” he played guitar for Post-Animal, a Chicago-based rock band. Many of his co-stars also sing. Maya Hawke recently released her second album, and Finn Wolfhard plays in an indie-rock duo, The Aubreys. Gaten Matarazzo finished his run in “Dear Evan Hansen” in September, just to name a few. But Keery stands above the rest in terms of his popularity and unconventional vision. His musical alias– DJO (pronounced “Joe”) – is an eccentric alter ego who always sports a fringed wig at concerts and photoshoots.
Decide references 1970s new wave and 1980s music, along with modern artists like Tame Impala and Daft Punk, to create a sleek rock record. The album fuses soaring synths, electric melodies and explosive drums to pay homage to and elevate these influences. Keery manages to throw in everything AND the kitchen sink in terms of musical production, which works in his favor most of the time.
“On and On,” is the best example of this all-encompassing composition style. The song employs controlled chaos to warn the listener of the dangers of doomscrolling – that social media rabbit hole of bad news we all fall into from time to time. It slowly builds from a catchy refrain into a crescendo of hypnotic vocals and synths, culminating in a deranged drum solo. “Runner,” the opening track, is also an honorable mention in terms of sharp, stylized mixing. The song’s production becomes more complex with Keery’s voice shifting in and out of electronica-style autotune while the beat evolves.
But, Keery sometimes falls victim to his creativity. “Gloom” combines nonsensical lyrics with manic pacing. It kind of sounds like if you set your friend group’s strangest texts to “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads. While that concept might sound interesting or at the very least fun, its grating repetition sticks in your head – and not in a good way.
Decide’s best song, on the other hand, is “End of the Beginning”. It’s the most minimalistic track on the album, but Keery’s deeply personal lyrics make it one to remember. He laments, “And when I’m back in Chicago, I feel it / Another version of me, I was in it / I wave goodbye to the end of beginning.” It’s the perfect soundtrack for walking around campus and reflecting on the beautiful but oftentimes bittersweet nature of our college experience.
Decide is a must-listen for indie-rock fans who favor intricate electronica production. While I wouldn’t call this a “no-skips album,” Keery’s bombastic musical innovation gives me hope that the music industry will continue to foster true creatives.