Adulthood is awkward. There’s so much you have to navigate all at once – jobs, romance, social situations no one prepared you for, the pressure to “get it together,” and so on. Weirdly enough, the only way to get past this awkwardness is to acknowledge and embrace the uncertainty and the anxiety. Embrace the cringe. Only then can you grow and start moving forward. After all, there is no McGraw Hill textbook for life.
That’s one of the core themes here on Jodaki (The Mixed Album), the latest from Philadelphia’s Joon Kim (aka Jodaki). He’s tackled the topic of cringe before on 2020’s Awk Rock. But this new album isn’t just about self-deprecation and painful self-consciousness. This time, he’s starting to liberate himself from all that self-doubt. There’s a defiant hopefulness, pushing back against society’s expectations and his own confusion. “I don’t know what I am, but should I really give a damn?,” he challenges.
The very first track, “A Portrait Of The Artist As A Dumb Man,” showcases this defiance. It begins with a stripped-down emo lament filled with self-pity and distress. “All my life, I was told I was so special…” But after thirty seconds pass, Kim decides he’s had enough of that. The distorted guitar kicks in and the message shifts. “…but that was bullshit and I don’t give a fuck about it,” he sneers. What’s the point of beating yourself up for not fitting into what society wants you to be? Is it really so bad if you “never lead nations or be a rich ass pig”?
On “Dissonant,” the theme of pushing past self-hatred is strongest. The track makes use of (you guessed it) dissonance with its haunting, off-kilter synths and theremin, and at one point Kim’s vocals even mimic the theremin’s haunting pitch shift. It’s one of the album’s best songs, with poignant lyrics that lay out the internal struggle of pushing past your own insecurities. “You’ve got it. You can have it all,” he sings on the chorus, before faltering and ending on, “You’re gonna fall.” But the self-hatred and self-consciousness lose in the end. “In the darkest corner of your mind / You find a way to believe as you keep on pushing with the grind.”
Another standout is the comparatively restrained “Burning Bridges.” It begins with little more than vocals and an acoustic guitar before slowly introducing chimes, fuzzy guitars, and some Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies. Like many of the other tracks mentioned, it has an endearing honesty to its lyrics and delivery. “This is kind of fucking awkward,” Kim sheepishly opens. The song closes with him asking, “Can I do it this time?” over and over, and the repetition combined with the soaring, dreamy backing vocals is effective and evocative.
This whole album is proof that much of our internal self-doubt is unfounded. On “Getting Older / Getting Colder,” Kim muses, “Writing a new sad song as I sit alone and hit a bong. It sounds just like the others. Do I give up? Do I bother?” It’s ironic he worries about his music sounding too samey on an album with so much variety. In fact, this is Jodaki’s most experimental and ambitious yet. He works a rap feature into his alt-rock on “Count On Me (feat. ER Black),” a string section backs him on the jangling “Russ (Dedication)”, one song is an instrumental track built around a sample of his boss firing him…there’s a striking amount of variations within these tracks, making it a surprising treat on a first listen and very rewarding on repeat listens.
The Mixed Album also explores the dubious nature of identity. “ID” is the most obvious example, as Kim voices anger at others questioning his sexuality and frustration with the pressure to have a label at all. The raging “Raze” addresses his frustration with Americans who use his Jewish identity to justify apartheid practices. And, of course, “A Portrait Of The Artist As A Dumb Man” is all about pushing back against others’ preconceptions and unlearning them yourself in the process.
Ultimately, Jodaki (The Mixed Album) is an intimate exploration of becoming yourself. Kim digs deep into himself on these songs, but there’s a universality to the themes here. Most of us have gone through these same stretches of confusion, trying to figure out where we fit into this messy world. Jodaki taps into this and shows that hey, you might still feel cringe and awkward and unsure – but who cares? You’re going to get through this anyways.