People Never Change but Djo is Trying – How “DECIDE” Captures Joe Keery’s Growth as an Artist

Nearly a three years to the day after his first LP, Djo (Joe Keery) released his sophomore album on September 16th. In both production and content, DECIDE shows off how Keery has evolved as a musician and as a person.

DECIDE album cover, courtesy of AWAL Records

Joe Keery started out in music long before his rise to fame as bully-turned-heartthrob-hero Steve Harrington in Netflix’s hit series, Stranger Things. He began his music career as a part of Post Animal, a Chicago psych-rock band formed in 2014. Keery was both a guitarist and drummer for Post Animal, but stopped touring with the band in August of 2019 to focus on his acting commitments. But soon after in September of 2019, he released his first debut album, Twenty Twenty, as part of his solo music project, Djo.

I was told to listen to Djo’s music on a recommendation. I had no idea that Joe Keery did music, let alone as Djo, and I don’t watch Stranger Things (mild take?). Keery’s first album, Twenty Twenty, firmly remains within the psychedelic-rock genre–fitting in with his previous work as part of Post Animal. A pleasant album to listen to, I enjoyed every song, especially “Personal Lies” and “BNBG.” However, it did feel like Keery used the album to prove he can do music on his own, in a way showing the world that he can be more than just an actor. In other words, Twenty Twenty played it safe with nothing particularly experimental. Regardless, I still thought the album was wonderful! When comparing Djo’s two albums, I still find myself prefering Twenty Twenty because of its fresh, creative, and musically satisfying classic psych-rock sound.

Joe Keery as Steve Harrington, Netflix promotional post for Stranger Things season 4

That being said, DECIDE is unapolagetically experimental in an exciting way. Heavily relying on vocoders and synthesizers to recreate the sound of 80s electronica, the album is about moving through the transitional period of young adulthood, specifically alongside the rise of social media. The album starts off with “Runner,” where Djo commits to personal growth as he sings “People never change/But I have to try.” The third song on the album, “Half Life,” effortlessly drifts between an eerie, flat-toned stillness and pleasant bursts of upbeat music. “On and On,” another stand-out track, talks about doom scrolling and the falsities inherent to social media. Directly afterwards, “End of Beginning” pays homage to Djo’s psychedelic roots of Twenty Twenty and Post Animal. The album closes with “Slither,” which repeats each phrase faster and faster until the song abruptly ends with “We all wanna be someone at the end of the day.” All in all, DECIDE showcases Keery’s lyrical creativity while also maintaining a consistent sound throughout all 13 tracks.

Second albums are always an oppurtunity for artists to show off how they’ve developed since their first release, and Djo has captured this idea of growth exceptionally well.

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