Music reviews

From Filthy Frank to BALLADS 1

He's come so far.

When I first encountered George Miller, it was through the popular YouTube persona “Filthy Frank”. Looking back, it’s hard for me to believe that the man who dreamed up videos like “Hair Cake” and its somehow more disturbing sequel, “Vomit Cake”, is the same man who dropped “Plastic Taste” and now, BALLADS 1. I shouldn’t be surprised – Miller had been putting out music as Pink Guy for years before he decided to focus more on making more mellow songs under the Japanese version of his given name, joji, and they were bops. I mean, the contents and lyrics of Pink Season were still pretty messed up, but it should have been apparent from the first time I heard “Dumplings” that…mans knows how to make a beat. Thankfully, he’s left behind his days of self-deprecating and vomit-inducing humor in favor of a more chilled out genre of music.

BALLADS 1is the latest release by joji, having dropped just five days ago. I’m sure he had made some sort of statement about releasing his album beforehand, but opening Spotify and seeing the pop-up declaring that joji had put out a new album – well, for me, it was like Christmas. Or maybe a feeling more akin to what I felt when Beyoncé dropped Beyoncé without telling anyone beforehand. As someone who had listened to the singles from this album religiously as they came out (“SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” was the only song I listened to for several days after it came out), I was thrilled to see what else joji had been working on for the past few months, and I was not disappointed.

The album starts out slow with “ATTENTION”, a short and sweet ballad, as the title of the album suggests. The song begins with piano notes, giving no indication of the electronic beats that come in on later tracks, but rather, setting the listener up for this to be the album meant for sad boi hours that we were all expecting it to be. “ATTENTION” simply cuts off when it’s finished, a stark contrast from the gradual opening of the song.

“SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” follows, also beginning slowly, but it brings in the electronic sounds that “ATTENTION” left out. Another ballad, “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” uses the metaphor of – you guessed it – slow dancing in the dark to symbolize a failing relationship. He tells the story of a man whose lover has hurt him, and though he misses her, he is ready to admit defeat for fear of being hurt by her again.

The lyrics continue in a similar manner through “TEST DRIVE”, “WANTED U”, and “CAN’T GET OVER YOU”, staying true to the style that the album title promises us, although “TEST DRIVE” and “CAN’T GET OVER YOU” are more upbeat than the songs that came before them.

“CAN’T GET OVER YOU” provides a much needed reprieve from the heavier songs on the album with it’s faster tempo and joji’s playful tone, even as he sings things like “I got a box cutter with your name on it”. Even as I read the lyrics and saw that this song is meant to be sad, I caught myself nodding along to the beat.

After “CAN’T GET OVER YOU”, the album slows down again until “NO FUN”, which is genuinely more lighthearted (relatively) than the rest of the album. A song about someone whose friends have left him because he focused too much on himself rather than devoting energy to maintaining a relationship with them, “NO FUN” makes me feel like I’m driving around with my windows down on a perfect summer day. While “CAN’T GET OVER YOU” also provides respite from the heavy lyrics, “NO FUN” comes at the perfect time – it seems as if joji is trying to remind us that “hey, I can be fun, too”.

The album ends with “I’LL SEE YOU IN 40”, which begins with joji playing the ukulele, a nod to his earlier days of music – this specifically reminds me of the songs he released as Pink Guy, since quite a few of them were just Miller with his ukulele. After this intro, however, the song briefly launches into a bassy tune that is somehow still as sad as the ukulele chords but has a much darker feel, before returning to the ukulele for the outro. The song fades out, and BALLADS 1 is over, back at the same acoustic place in which it started.

As joji mumbles his way through BALLADS 1 (seriously, I had to google the lyrics for every song I mentioned), we’re taken on an emotional journey. Miller gracefully creates a rising and falling action throughout the album, peaking with “NO FUN” before slowing back down to remind us that we’ve just listened to an album full of songs about a troubled man. The ukulele at the end brings the album full circle, leaving us feeling satisfied with where it has taken us. Through its emotional and musical ups and downs, BALLADS 1 is the perfect album for your own sad boi hours – or all hours, regardless of how you’re feeling.

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