Before Joe Keery was better known as Steve Harrington, one half of Stranger Things’ best bromance, the actor was a member of Chicago psych group Post Animal. He featured on their debut album ‘When I Think Of You In A Castle’ – including leading one of the record’s poppiest moments in ‘Ralphie’ – but, as the world became fixated on the goings-on in Hawkins, Indiana, music had to take a backseat.
Now Keery is back in the business of making tunes (or at least sharing them with the world). His debut album ‘Twenty Twenty’ arrives with little fanfare around it on his part – it’s not even being released under a name Netflix users would recognise and the press shots for it find him sporting dark glasses and a thick moustache. Instead of cashing in on the clout from his acting projects, he’s letting the music do the talking.
What ‘Twenty Twenty’ is saying is that Keery is a musician of very high calibre who shouldn’t need other endeavours to get our attention. He dabbles in the kind of inventive, warped psychedelia that gently twists your melon and constantly shapeshifts around you, all the while feeling like a much-needed hair stroke when you’ve gone over the edge. It’s half-serious, half-playful, a tone set by 48-second opener ‘Showtime’, on which languid guitar chords straight out of the Ariel Pink playbook are abruptly cut off by a goofy, heavily manipulated voice drawling the song’s title.
On ‘Ring’, the musician sounds like a particularly bored robot, monotonously croaking his way through the verses before a dazzling chorus hits. ‘Personal Lies’ revolves around a clean, sputtering riff, its jerky rhythm eventually melting into something dreamier and softer. ‘Chateau (Feel Alright)’ is woozier and more melancholy, Keery sighing, “Help, something’s wrong with me/Homesick for LA” like the comedown is kicking in. On closer ‘Mutual Future’, he sounds mired in urgency as he croons: “I want you / Baby, I need you / Seems untrue but I know I do.”
While ‘Twenty Twenty’ boasts your typical psych tropes – trippy effects, epic solos and modal melodies – it never sounds stale, thanks to enough intriguing flourishes such as the fantasy section of ‘Tentpole Shangrila’ or the lullaby opening of ‘Roddy’. As the wait for a new record from Tame Impala drags onward, Keery’s first release as Djo is the perfect album to fill the psych kings’ void. Let’s just hope he can carry on juggling acting and music so we can enjoy his talents in both fields.