Joho – Nocturnal Daydreams

 Joho – Nocturnal Daydreams

Joho – Nocturnal Daydreams – Album Review

Stoked to have this dude back in the mix, I thought he put out a really solid record the last time around when we reviewed Joho’s album Youth In Retrospect here at our pages last year.  It was the kind of strong effort that certainly implied whatever the man would come up with next would always be well worth our time, and now here we are with a new record called Nocturnal Daydreams to find out if all our assumptions were correct.  Spoiler alert…of course they were.  We know good music when we hear it, and Joho more than qualifies…I highly suspect there’s a solid chance that he always will.

That being said…even writing this review forces me to start in a dark, dark place right now…for you see, Joho comes from the CITY OF ALL-THINGS-BEARDED AND REAL BALL…and I’m missing my favorite team from H-town unbelievably these days.  Just to be reminded of Houston at all right now is to remember we’re all in the middle of this crazy-ass time where all our entertainment has been locked down as tight as the rest of us.  I remember thinking the all-star break was hard enough…but this is excruciating…I miss Harden, I miss Westbrook, I miss Tucker, Rivers, Covington…I clearly digress…back to the music…

“My Uber Driver Look Like Santa” isn’t just in the running for best song-title of the year, it’s also got great energy to get this new record from Joho movin’ quickly.  The demands on this guy are huge right off the drop – he’s the songwriter, singer, and rapper responsible for every moment on the mic, and the versatile dynamics of a hybrid like this first cut reveal he’s got the skills to make each aspect of what he brings to music shine bright.  Given the fact that Joho has such a range of talent and isn’t afraid to take on the bars or hooks at any time, much like on Youth In Retrospect, you might find you connect to one part of what he does more than the others and have a favorite moment in any given song on Nocturnal Daydreams – that’s only natural, that’s how we listen.  BUT…acknowledge that the man behind the mic has the ability & skills required to take on anything when it comes to making his music – his hybrid style is a complete asset, and when it comes right down to it, Joho is really a one-man army capable of many great things.  By comparison to the rest of the lineup after listening, you’ll recognize there’s a looseness to this first track that doesn’t really exist in the rest overall, but there’s no doubt that as a first impression, Joho flexes more than enough style and innovative sound that’s designed solidly to get you onboard for the ride through the rest.  And that pays off big-time, because as solid of a start as this first cut really is, I think the record gets better from here for the vast majority, progressively as it flows on.

And that sure as shit starts right away.  There’s a simple saying that applies to this second tune…’when it’s right, it’s right.’  Sometimes you can just hear that instant spark in a performance that blazes into a massive connection to a song quickly – like, you just know from moment one that you’re in for something that’s gonna seriously stand out.  “Fondue” is that cut.  With an assist from KD, Joho collaborates to a complete WIN on the highly stylistic second cut from Nocturnal Daydreams – this track drips swag from every pore of your speakers as it plays.  Shakes a lil’ sexy atcha as well too; make no mistake, Joho’s gettin’ down & dirty here along with KD in the lyrics & themes running through “Fondue,” and daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn this sounds incredible!  Love the off-kilter piano-sample that forms the melody, dig the distance in the effects on the vocals from both on the mic, and the real hooks come through the performance itself – these two homies are tearin’ it up with no apologies or fucks given as they surge through the bars of “Fondue.”  Were it not for the massively explicit content you’re in-store for here, you’d be in for one of the most single-worthy cuts you’ll hear in 2020…as to whether or not Joho can get a cut like this into the mainstream without all the squares noticing…that’s tougher.  But whatever to the white-collar crowd if you ask me…”Fondue” is a cut that literally speaks for the underground and the incredibly exciting music that can be found within the scene – I think Joho and KD have crushed every single moment of “Fondue” & set the bar extremely high at the start of this album.

They prove it’s no fluke right away though – you’ll hear straight-up mastery on the mic happenin’ on “Out The Mud” once again, and between that and the inspired energy you’ll find in “Fondue” right beforehand, it’s clear that this record has officially taken flight and we’re all strapped in for the ride willingly.  Outstanding quality in the writing & performances on “Out The Mud” – absolutely jaw-dropping stuff when it comes right down to it…we’re hit with a verbal barrage of imagery & realness on the m-i-c, and it NEVER stops coming atcha.  Pretty much full-throttle on the mic from beginning to end, what’s rad about “Out The Mud” as well is the chilled-out melody happening in the background coming out so relaxing that it makes for exceptionally effective contrast with the intensity of the vocal-flow.  Basically it gives the song the advantage of two completely separate dynamics that perfectly complement each other, which creates an insanely odd but verifiable balance.  Joho & KD are rappin’ so quick that it would spin your head around like Linda Blair just tryin’ to keep up with’em under most circumstances…but it’s because of the stellar beat selection & vibe created by the samples, that everything seems to slow down to a brilliantly accessible pace where you can absorb every word.  The structure and how each layer between the lead vocals, background, and beat, are expertly placed together…you add in the depth of the character of the emcees on the m-i-c, the flashy moves they make as they flex & flow, and the confident performance they put in here…”Out The Mud” is a solid cut, 100%.

But LISTEN to a track like “Tomorrow (Freestyle)” will ya?  This is the moment right here…this is the anthem.  I mean hey…it’s a recording…only Joho and his homie Kiev on the mic know the full story, but I take an artist at their word, and if it says ‘Freestyle’ then I’m inclined to believe’em.  So LISTEN to the skills on the mic and the magic happenin’ here people…cause this is realer than real and a massive highlight early on in the lineup of Nocturnal Daydreams that came out perhaps even better than the written material beforehand!  And how impressive is that y’all – c’mon now, you know it is.  Joho’s been raising the stakes from moment one on this record…you can’t help but become fully invested in what you’ll hear on this album, and it’s because of the major degree of accessible melody on cuts like “Tomorrow (Freestyle)” that have Nocturnal Daydreams continually standing out for all the right reasons early on.  It’s just refreshing, full-stop, end of sentence.  There’s a genuine spark of enthusiasm & passion that you’ll hear on “Tomorrow (Freestyle)” that’s truly unlike any other song on this record; if you were going to sing along with Joho, believe me, this will be the cut you’ll be busting out your voice on in the hooks & verses.  From the personal to the political, Joho and Kiev let the tape roll and the thoughts at the top of their dome spill onto this track – freestyle homies – and it’s bloody perfection.

All that good stuff being said about accessibility…sometimes when you lessen the degree of potential in that respect, you stumble into uniqueness that’s ahead of the game like Joho does on “N.O.T.Y.” with KD and Groupy Dimes.  Because I listen to this cut and I’m like, audibly blown-away by the results here; I can absolutely understand that “N.O.T.Y.” isn’t going to catch as many ears as a track like “Fondue” or “Tomorrow (Freestyle)” are going to land – but dammit, it SHOULD…because there’s serious art in this craft and you can completely hear it on “N.O.T.Y.”  The first time I heard it, I was like…’how in the fuck?’ – because it’s such a unique set of sounds and ambitious idea that you’ll honestly be surprised at just how effective it becomes in pulling you in to listen & securing your full attention.  Making it have even more significance in the flow of the record is how much it ends up standing out between the smoother-than-smooth, accessible sounds of “Tomorrow (Freestyle)” and “We Just Be Chillin’” surrounding it; there’s no doubt that both these tunes have much broader appeal, but the effect of having two cuts like that on either side of “N.O.T.Y.” makes you really appreciate just how innovative & next-level this track us.  Sure it might take longer for the people to catch onto…whatever…believe me when I say that WHEN (not if) they do, they’re gonna be hooked on “N.O.T.Y.” for a long time to come, because the facts are that Joho, KD, and Groupy Dimes are rockin’ a cut that’s ahead of the game – this won’t wear out.  If you’re unsure, just wait til this track ticks past the first minute and drops into the dankest sounds you’ll hear coming from your speakers this year…genius to even think a track like this could be attempted, let along pulled off with such exceptional results as the ones you’ll hear.

Just like I was alluding to a second ago, “We Just Be Chillin’” is one of the easiest cuts to like on Nocturnal Daydreams – I’d be willing to bet Joho would be hard pressed to find a person out there that wouldn’t connect to the vibe on this track.  Featuring another stellar performance from KD in one of the last collaborations on the record, “We Just Be Chillin’” comes packaged & ready to go – there’s little to no doubt that the people will be feelin’ this one.  I fail to hear what anyone else could want from Joho when it comes to “We Just Be Chillin’” – this cut is pre-mixed for the party and ready to pop it off – it’s as inviting, chill, calm, and welcoming as a track can be…both KD and the main star of the show sound right at home.  I’ve often said that writing in a ‘happy’ gear can prove to be the toughest for singers, songwriters, and artists of all kinds out there in every genre – “We Just Be Chillin’” is the kind of cut that confirms it can absolutely be done right.  At less than three minutes in length, it’s an audible reminder that the good times can fly by all too quickly sometimes…I’d have taken another two minutes or more of “We Just Be Chillin’” and I’m sure you’d never find me complaining.  I’ll take what I can get though – this track comes out swinging for the fence and hits a subtle homerun that makes us all wanna celebrate.

Back on his solo grind, he airs a few grievances on “There’s No Use Falling In Love” and nearly gets ‘caught up in the thot up’ in the process.  I have my moments with this track where I’ve gone back’n’forth on my opinion…there are a few spots where the fragility is well-crafted, but somehow missing the punch of that familiar confidence on the mic from Joho.  Now…that could be because of the subject matter, that could be a stylistic choice, that could be a performance that’s missing a little something that made the rest stand-out…it’s hard to say and I ain’t sayin’ it doesn’t work really well for the vast majority of the song, because it does.  What really stands out to me about “There’s No Use Falling In Love” is the writing itself and the way the overall song is structured from the lead to the background.  Joho’s expertly used the space here and created a flow that works incredibly well with the design of the beat, the hooks are strong, and words come out raw & real…there’s lots to dig on and it’s likely only by comparison to the savage roll he’s been on in the first half of this record that makes “There’s No Use Falling In Love” seem a bit thinner by comparison to the rest of what we’ve heard so far.  Or that could just be the way I’m hearing it…like I said, the hooks are pretty much bulletproof here in many ways…I could just as easily hear that “There’s No Use Falling In Love” could be a favorite for listeners out there too.  When it comes to how each layer responds to the others from the music to the vocals…I mean…you gotta hand it to Joho for the skillful craft of his songwriting…and that transition into the main hooks from verse to chorus always makes a memorable impact on us, every time we hear it.

The selection of sound on this entire record has been nothing short of magnificent – I’ve been highly impressed with that the whole way through.  “Hope” proves to be another massive challenge for Joho – and in many ways, I completely understand why that is this time around.  Where there might be a few spots on “There’s No Use Falling In Love” that could have potentially come out stronger, the hard reality of “Hope” is that Joho’s own versatility might be complicating his overall performance.  In terms of writing, lyrics, sincerity…I think you’d easily find “Hope” able to compete with the best of the best on paper…but my suspicion here, is that Joho has SO MANY bloody options as an artist in terms of how he can approach his vocals, that the sheer amount of choices might have nearly gotten the better of him.  I say ‘nearly’ because ultimately the core melody comes across well enough – but I’d be willing to bet even Joho fully knows he’s walking a very fine line with how he sings this cut.  I don’t know specifically when his last record Youth In Retrospect was released…I know we reviewed it in December…assuming it was somewhere close to that, you gotta recognize the fact that these songs are coming out in a hurry.  For the most part, you wouldn’t notice it – on “Hope,” I think that you do…this seems like a fantastic idea that’s just been rushed a bit more than perhaps it should have been…and if I’m being as honest with Joho as I am with everyone here on these pages of ours, I know he’s got more in the tank than this.  Because the idea itself, like so many of Joho’s cuts, is incredible…to me, I think “Hope” sounds like he needs to stand back from the work, come back to it with a critical and objective perspective, and really ask whether or not he’s gotten the maximum performance from himself to suit what the song needs.  All this being said, I’d still be willing to bet that most listeners out there will still be more than willing to bump this cut because of the strengths in Joho’s songwriting and ideas…he’s still got lots goin’ on.

Remember when I was tellin’ ya that ‘when it’s right, it’s right?’  Thought so.  “Blown Away” – nuff said.

The next song on the record is…

……hold up.  You know I wouldn’t just pass by a cut as quality as “Blown Away” without more of a comment than that.  This track JAMS!  It’s results as stellar as this that has me wanting Joho to really get that editorial aspect of his music in full-gear and be objective with the material…I think you gotta be able to recognize the difference in the level of performance he puts into this cut versus the two prior.  Obviously “Blown Away” is much more upbeat…I get that…but what my ears are hearing is the sound of an artist that’s got the material completely locked-down on this song and invested into every moment, versus what might be newer songs or tracks Joho might have been less sure of going into the booth on “There’s No Use Falling In Love” or “Hope.”  Again…I’m just one dude with an opinion, but that’s what I’m hearing, so that’s what I’m tellin’ ya.  When I hear what Joho brings to the mic on “Blown Away” I wanna give the guy a freakin’ award…I know how much of an effort it would take to both write & perform in so many different styles, sounds, and approaches like he does, and what he’s achieving is certainly noteworthy to say the least.  When his most enthusiastic & radiant personality comes out to play like it does through the charismatically-jazzy core of “Blown Away,” he’s got every single one of us listeners right in the palm of his hand.  To me, this track set the ship firmly back on course, and Joho confidently captains this record to a successful victory time & time again from here on to the very end.  Fun is a seriously contagious element of the vibe on “Blown Away”…Joho’s toastin’ the ladies of the world here, and in the process creates an immaculately universal groove we can all latch onto.

“Isla” is equally awesome.  It’s kind of like the stripped-back version of the music we heard on “Blown Away” at the core of its melody, more delicate in nature like “There’s No Use Falling In Love” or “Hope,” but with that exceptional execution we know Joho is fully capable of at his most focused.  To me, “Isla” was similar to those aforementioned cuts, but this is where Joho’s locked into the material and completely getting it right.  Listen to the main hooks of “Isla” will ya?  Not only are they super strong to begin with, but they’re also highly demanding to sing, and Joho’s crushin’ it with style and professionalism bang-on.  Great move on his part to feature this track right after “Blown Away” as well, they kinda slide right into each other and both possess a jazz-like inspiration that keeps the music interesting, charming, and even enchanting at times, like it is here on “Isla.”  A love-song at its core, Joho’s done an excellent job of bringing the sweetness of this sentiment straight to the surface for all to hear, and the use of the guitar melody as the backbone of the music was completely solid…this whole track really feels like we’ve been invited to sit in on an intimate & isolated moment shared between Joho and “Isla.”  It’s also a highlight example of the X-factor in Joho as an artist…”Isla” sounds so natural & well-suited to him that it nearly seems effortless, but that’s also partly because he’s got his part well-rehearsed & ready to roll; this song shines a light both on his innate ability to create memorable hooks & melodies as a writer, as well as the craft & personality he applies to his music as a performer.  Great pace, fantastic vibe, sweetness in-check…”Isla” feels wonderfully authentic, and the piano, guitars, drums, and bass are complete perfection…this track will get ya noddin’ your head in approval for sure.

“Downgrade” should leave you speechless, straight up.  I mean…look…with Joho’s capability for versatility, there’s no doubt that he could choose multiple directions with his music at any given moment and create something all-new for your ears to dig on…but this…THIS…was still an incredible surprise on Nocturnal Daydreams.  Right from the very first moments of its lullaby-meets-poetic style, the combination of music & words is pure audio GOLD…you can feel the heartbeat in this song and that desire to create authentic art by Joho here…and MAN is he successful when it comes to “Downgrade!”  He’s playing with a lot of heartbreaking sound, thoughts, and emotions on this cut…like there’s a damn good chance at the wrong moment or the right time this track could pull a shitload of tears outta your face, so consider yourselves warned.  “Downgrade” makes a massive impression with how real it is.  For me, this is likely the unsung hero of this entire record and a strong candidate for my personal favorite; “Downgrade” dares to head in a severely different direction and fearlessly yields incredible results.  Joho is working with truly mesmerizing melody and emotion that connects straight to the heartstrings on this cut, and just how real this whole moment in time becomes is entirely due to the strength of his performance & songwriting combined.  He’s a man of many talents and “Downgrade” is a solid reminder to expect the unexpected when it comes down to what comes next – this is decidedly different from every cut on the record…and quite honestly, it’s breathtaking.  Savagely sad…but incredibly beautiful.

Flexing that versatile sound that’s made him so inspiring to listen to & kept us guessing the entire distance through this record yet again, “Between Us” takes us into the big synthetic sounds of the 80’s without sounding fully dated by any measure.  If anything, it’s got the advantage of a comforting sound that’s familiar and welcome to millions out there…”Between Us” might sound more throwback than many of the others on Nocturnal Daydreams by comparison, but believe me when I say it’s still every bit as relevant when it comes to what listeners are looking for in their music out there.  I’m obviously always going to argue on behalf of cuts like “Downgrade” that flex a more unique artistic muscle – but I’m not made of stone either…I’m just as susceptible to the beat and big hooks of “Between Us” as anybody else out there would be.  You’ll find it’s the singing that really leads the way to victory for Joho throughout the second-half of this record…and you’ll dig on the sheer variety of sounds to be found as well.  “Between Us” is further proof that Joho can step into just about any arena of music and find success…the unabashed catchiness of this cut is bound to snag everyone out there with its sharp hooks.

I’d also be taking a good look at how well “Calling Me Out” comes out as well if I was Joho…because there’s a good chance that more than a few people out there will be claiming this cut as their favorite, and for plenty of great reasons.  Heck, if it wasn’t for the artistic brilliance of “Downgrade” or the spark in “Tomorrow (Freestyle),” I’d probably be inclined to say the same.  Joho puts sheer genius on wax within the hooks of “Calling Me Out” – we’re pretty much talkin’ about an irresistible tune when it comes right down to it, I don’t see how anyone gets out of liking or loving this cut.  Really soulful sound in Joho’s voice as he sings this song…the verse is threadbare at first, and even though the melody is already highly appealing, once everything snaps into place around the one-minute mark, it quickly becomes another jaw-dropping composition you have to marvel at.  Extremely well sung…I think Joho delivers one of his best performances on “Calling Me Out” – but again…to be as clear as I damn well can be – this dude just continually writes his NUTS OFF with verifiable hooks you couldn’t possibly miss.  So there’s advantages of all kinds when it comes time to sing – he’s got every reason to be confident when he hits the booth, because the material is literally ALWAYS there…and when he’s nailing it as hard as he is on “Calling Me Out,” there’s absolutely nothing that could stop this guy.  This track alone should earn him a spot opening up for Post Malone when he steps out on the Post-Corone tour when we’re finally through all this insanity that the world is going through right now.  If you’re looking for that cut that’s gonna give you a moment of mental reprieve and just let the good-times flow through your speakers, I’d highly advocate for giving this cut a listen – “Calling Me Out” is easily one of the album’s most addictive tunes, 100% single-worthy, and a true shot of radiant, melodic energy that surges before the final cut.

Drifting off into dreamlike sounds and a beautifully serene atmosphere, Joho builds on his singer/songwriter credit even more by knocking his final track right outta the park in a subtle & sweet blaze of sweetness on “Now & Forever,” featuring Syred at the end of Nocturnal Daydreams.  As much as I dig on what Joho is capable of when he’s rappin’ it up, hearing the direction he takes into using his singing voice as the main attraction in the final two cuts really warrants a shout-out of solid approval.  Does he save his very best for the end?  Has he been holding out on us this entire time?  I’d say it’s a fairly close call…”Now & Forever” comes out sparkling & shining with spectacular sound and concludes this album with something different than what we’ve heard so far already, with flawless results…but…I still think this record is ultimately loaded with stiff competition and cuts that’ll probably work their way ahead in line in front of this tune…at first perhaps, but not for long.  The undeniable charm that “Now & Forever” contains and the ultra-sweet sound of Joho & Syred collaborating is bound to win over a whole lot of ears and definitely encourage listeners out there to repeat this whole experience again from front to back.  Tons of quality tunes throughout Nocturnal Daydreams, “Now & Forever” just happens to be one of many in this lineup; there’s a solid argument to be made for a whole bunch of these songs to be singles and playlist essentials, and you wouldn’t find me arguing against ya – Joho does a great job in holding it down respectably in all areas of his versatile style, diversifies his sound at every opportunity, and proves through his writing he can absolutely hang with the best of the best out there, every time.

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