Joe Keery of “Stranger Things” has been getting a lot of attention in the press lately for
the controversial chopping of his famous locks (and into a bowl cut, no less). While this is clearly noteworthy news, I think we need to talk about something else Joe-Keery-related: his new album, Twenty Twenty, released under the name Djo. The album has not been publicized to a great extent—(certainly not to the extent of his haircut)— which is in line with Keery’s tendency to separate his music from his stardom and acting career. Joe Keery was previously a member of Chicago psych-rock group Post Animal but left the band when his role as Steve Harrington on Stranger Things started blowing up. This decision was ultimately made because he wanted the band to be known for their talent, not for being the band that Steve Harrington is in. I always had a lot of respect for that decision—leaving a band that you’re passionate about for the good of the band’s future is no small choice. Regardless of his past as a musician, Djo brings the world a fantastic psychedelic rock project that shares similarities and influence from Post Animal while simultaneously being uniquely Joe Keery.
The tracks on Twenty Twenty have a huge amount of variety, some being poppier than others, but all having distinctly psychedelic twists. A perfect example of this is track two, “Personal Lies” which starts out upbeat, fun, and light. About halfway through, the track breaks into an extended instrumental section that carries us through the rest of the song. Most of the songs include a break similar to this one, but some are more laid back and some are faster-paced. The variety definitely keeps the album fresh and interesting. We get to catch a super playful and funky falsetto in the chorus of “Just Along for the Ride,” which is another cool feature of the album that I found myself really enjoying. There are also some profound lyrics nested in the psychedelia of Twenty Twenty. I noticed this the most on track five, “Chateau (Feel Alright),” which is not coincidentally my favorite tune on the album. The song starts out slowly and works its way into a groovy repetition that has gotten stuck in my head countless times during the few days that the album has been out. The best part, however, is the lyricism. “In the summer of my life—that’s when we first met…something about you makes me feel like a kid” Keery croons delicately; using this level of poeticism and vulnerability on a psych-rock track seems almost out of place but in the best way. It’s different and it’s indicative of genre-defying talent.
I could go on and on dissecting each song on this album because they are all so unique and important to the cohesiveness of the album, but trust me—we’d be here forever. The listening experience feels more unique and interesting each time through the album. Another facet of Twenty Twenty worth mentioning is that musicians from Chicago rock bands Twin Peaks and Post Animal are featured on several tracks, highlighting Keery’s loyalty to the Chicago rock scene (and the Chicago rock scene’s loyalty to Keery, for that matter).
I was tremendously impressed with this album, and I feel it did not get the amount of press it deserved. This begs the question, is that what Keery wanted all along? Historically speaking, I’d venture to say the answer to this question is yes. By using the name Djo he is already preserving a certain level of anonymity, and I’d guess that he wants to keep his music career separate from his acting career. The art should be appreciated in its own respective context, not because he is the star of an extremely popular tv show. For this reason and a dozen others, Djo does everything right with his new project, from the hasty and hushed release of it to the actual content that makes up the twelve track album. For fans of psychedelia, Twenty Twenty does not disappoint.