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Joe Keery’s new album begs the question: Can actors make good music?

Joe Keery, most popular for his role as Steve Harrington in "Stranger Things," proves he's more than just an actor on his new album "Decide."
Joe Keery, most popular for his role as Steve Harrington in "Stranger Things," proves he's more than just an actor on his new album "Decide."

We all know and love Steve Harrington from Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” but few fans are aware of actor Joe Keery’s musical pursuits under the stage name Djo (pronounced Joe).

Departing from his former band Post Animal, Keery debuted his album “Twenty Twenty” in September 2019. Djo entranced many with the twelve tracks of psychedelic rock reminiscent of Tame Impala. In summer 2022, he performed his music in a series of music festivals, announcing the arrival of his upcoming album in the fall.

On Sept. 16, he released his album “Decide.”

The idea of Keery using Djo to detach from his celebrity identity intrigues me. Before listening to the album, I worried I would only be able to hear Steve Harrington’s voice singing into my Airpods.

“Decide,” however, feels like I'm listening to something else entirely.

His first song “Runner” opens with the classic sounds of psychedelic rock, a trippy yet upbeat tune with abstract lyrics. Of all the songs featured on this album, “Runner” is the most similar to Tame Impala and introduces the overarching theme of the album of Djo’s relationship with change as he grows older.

He seamlessly transitions “Runner” into “Gloom,” which features Djo’s bass and guitar skills. “Gloom” takes an energetic approach to saying goodbye and being over friendships.

Djo’s album takes a deeper turn with “Half Life.” This song is a rapidly changing mix of self loathing and thought provoking lyricism. “I see/ I let my ego get the best of me/ in the age of excess / less may be best for me”

“On and On” is Djo’s clever interpretation of his experience with social media. The repetitive notion of the song makes the listener feel like they’re scrolling through their phone themselves. This introduces the existential undertone to the song.

His most personal song on the album is undoubtedly “End of Beginning,” as he sings about leaving Chicago. This song feels more like a ballad in comparison to the songs leading up to it. Djo parts with the old version of himself, singing “And when I’m back in Chicago, I feel it / Another version of me, I was in it.” I find myself coming back to this song frequently. 

The next songs blur together. “I want your video” is a funky tune reminiscent of Harry Styles’ “Cinema.” Despite its name, the song “Climax” sounds quite repetitive and falls flat. 

“Change” offers a break to the trance these songs put you in. This eclectic song is upbeat and catchy while still feeling meaningful.

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The song transitions into “Is that All It Takes,”  a 20-second interlude that features another smooth transition into “Go For It.” These songs, plus the closers, “Figure You Out” and “Slither” are forgettable. Part of me wishes he didn’t include any of these final songs since they overshadow the better work on the album.

I half-expected Djo to sing about his experience on “Stranger Things.” A show as mainstream as “Stranger Things” plays an encompassing role in the life of many, which makes me assume that it would completely encompass Djo’s and spill over into his work.

“Decide” serves as a reminder that public figures aren’t the two dimensional icons we create in our heads. The fact that Keery can produce good songs that aren’t in the pop genre and act is genuinely impressive. 

His album is a coming of age that the media rarely gets to see — one that takes a deeper dive into the overall lostness that many experience in their twenties. His songs are a stream of consciousness that evoke emotions of nostalgia and existential dread. 

Rating: 7/10