Joho – Upper Campus

 Joho – Upper Campus

Joho – Upper Campus – EP Review

If there’s one truly awesome problem to have when you’re listening to music, it’s simply not being able to choose a favorite from the record you’ve put on – and you’ll quite likely find that’s the case with Joho’s new EP here.

Did you place your bets?  Did you push all-in?  At the very least, I certainly hope none of you counted this guy out, especially not after Joho went on to be crowned as our site’s official winner of 2020’s Best New Sound.  All of you regular readers & listeners paying real attention out there should have this guy stapled to your playlists, and I’m assuming that you do.  Being nominated to our top ten list at the end of any year is always verifiable recognition for sure – but as you know, we turn the controls over to YOU from there…once that list is out there, it’s always up to our followers to determine the overall winner.

What I can tell you is this – for the most part, from what I’ve seen in the past, it generally comes down to a handful of those leading the way in that competition, usually only two or three really, while the rest rack up a few modest votes in between…but there was almost no battle at all last year – Joho was your clear-cut choice.  It was to the point where you almost had to wonder halfway through our quest for the best, if his fans started to take it easy on the huge beatdown that was taking place…I highly suspect Joho could have had even more votes if the people out there didn’t already see he was always so many miles ahead of the rest of the competition, eventually going on to become our indisputable winner for his efforts in flipping the script under an alternate persona to rock as Dirk Turquoise & The Grimy Pastels.

People always want to know if I end up agreeing with the final vote.  I’ll say this – every name on a top ten I put out at the end of the year, is one I’d fully stand behind as doing something undeniably new & incredible in some way, shape, or form out there in the music-scene.  And if that’s ultimately the metrics being used to get’em on that list…then I’m not sure there’s ever been a selection I agreed with more in the fans out there choosing Joho last year.  Not only does he make music in a vast array of styles from Rap to Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul…and even pretty much acoustic now here on the Upper Campus EP…but the reality is, he THRIVES in every…single…one of them.  I ain’t gonna lie to ya and say he’s the most humble character I’ve run into out there in the ol’ music-scene, but at the same time, it’s rare to find an artist out there that has so many verifiable reasons to flex on social-media either.  I mean, if I had a quarter of this guy’s talent I’d be taking out ads in newspapers all across the globe just to make sure each and every one of you knew about it…so I don’t blame the guy when he comes out swinging on social-media & whatnot…until you’re ALL paying attention & tuning-in, I say keep makin’ that noise Joho.

Like this quote from his Twitter feed from April 2nd this year:  “Anywho I’m the best songwriter you know personally” – just a LITTLE bold right?  Well…it’s quite likely facts as well, so I don’t really know what else to tell ya.  I might have gotten on Joho a couple times throughout the years of listening to his music for the occasional note or tone here or there, but rarely if ever, have I had anything to argue much against at all when it comes to his songwriting.  Dude’s bulletproof, straight up, and all of the time.  Anyhow.  All of this story & intro here is real context for ya…it’s actually kind of important when it comes right down to it.  One of Joho’s best weapons in his entire arsenal is the element of surprise, which he’s displayed countless times already by how successful he’s been at taking what we think we know about him & his music, and completely doing a 180-degree turn in a different direction the next time out, leaving us truly dazzled by the fact that he finds his way to such impressive results continually in such a variety of styles.  And after all I’ve been talking about here…all these accolades he’s received by us & by others out there for the work he’s been putting in & the incredible music he’s been making…all this in-your-face attitude & personality you see wild’n’out on his social media feeds…you probably wouldn’t think he’d come out with such a noticeably stripped-down, vulnerable, intimate and gentle, acoustically-based set of sweet & sincere tunes now would ya?  These “folk songs about being depressed in college” turned out awesome.

Because here’s the thing y’all…we’ve heard this guy with all the bells & whistles, all the effects & production etc. etc. – and while that’s certainly never disappointed, it’s still very arguable that the more music gets stripped back towards the bare-bones of its ingredients, the more actually gets revealed in the talent that truly exists, which is entirely the case when it comes to the Upper Campus EP.  Joho’s got precious little surrounding him on any of these songs, save for a few elements in the music ridin’ with him delicately…but the vast majority of what you’ll hear, is completely carried on his shoulders – it’s his voice, his songwriting, his gift for melody, & absolutely stellar execution that you’ll remember on this EP.  This is all the proof anyone would ever need to know that all Joho has ever needed was himself to make the magic happen with his music…this is as complete a set of five tunes as you’re likely to ever listen to.

Diving into his days at school, “Liberal Arts” will instantly confirm you’re in for something special from Joho, and another experience that deviates fully from what we heard last time around.  Because why NOT right?  Just immortalized on our Wall Of Fame here at our pages for all-time – it’s only natural you’d go in a totally different direction right?  With Joho, honestly, it kind of IS like that – it’s almost like this guy has a checklist somewhere of each & every genre & style known to mankind and has plans to conquer them all.  You’d think it would be a risky move to switch it up as far as he has, but when you’ve got his superhuman songwriting skills & ability to connect like Joho does, there’s literally zero risk at all.  KEEP FLEXIN’ JOHO – if you’ve got the talent to back it all up, no one on earth can come at you brother.  Look at me…ALL-CAPS TYPIN’ while listening to the most delicate set of five he’s put out to-date – Joho’s music gets me fired-UP, no matter how gentle the sound or style may be, because the man commits 100% to everything he does…and “Liberal Arts” immediately proves he never lets his high standard drop, even when he’s at his most chill.  Even the fact that the acoustic guitar itself…which could very well just be a ukulele, it’s hard to say to tell ya the truth…but the point is, it seems like it could use a slight tune-up at times, but even THAT somehow becomes charming on “Liberal Arts” – it just all sounds so remarkably natural, like Joho’s just dreaming out loud and we get to be there to witness his thoughts & feelings come streaming at us organically, in the moment.  That’s all regarding the music of course – what you’ll hear the guy do on the mic is pure perfection, loaded up with unique details that tell his own particular tales & would separate him quickly from anything else out there…he’s got a way with expressing himself through seriously impeccable details and heartfelt emotion when he sings.  Listen to the way he twists the final twenty-seconds or so of “Liberal Arts” to reveal what’s even arguably the biggest hook you’ll find in the entire song!  Joho does nostalgia extremely well, and he’s got this track stockpiled with it from start to finish, keeping the words flowing quickly & melodically at ya, detailing the early days of love blossoming, finding his way into Upper Campus life – it’s a genuinely beautiful tune, grounded, down-to-earth with a dreamer’s vibe, and a moving first impression of his new EP.  It’s not the typical tale, that much I can tell ya – follow the details, and you’ll find quite the twisted path towards this tender moment in time…but hey, ain’t that what life & love are really all about anyhow?

“Kinsey” would be a stellar example of what I’ve been talking about…not that any of these tunes are overstuffed in any conceivable way, but this is a pretty stripped-back version that highlights just how far Joho’s actually dialed-back the ingredients on Upper Campus to get to the maximum in his songwriting.  Love the way he’s got his melody phrased in the writing of his words, continuing on lines from one to the next & really giving this second cut a brilliantly fluid flow that glides on a cushion of clouds, which is where you’ll find Joho’s head is at incidentally, as he’s dreaming about “Kinsey” & singing this tributary song.  Listen to key moments like around the fifty-second spot, and once again, that final change-up he makes around the 2:35-ish mark as well…it’s moments like these that are making all the difference between finding a really good folk song, and really great ones like you’ll find all over the Upper Campus EP.  And I ain’t lyin’ to ya when I say that Joho is probably more than capable of falling out of bed onto a song like “Kinsey” – the dude just has an innate connection to what music & melody is all about, and this particular cut dives straight down into just how effective his songwriting can be.  When he’s focused, has a theme, and obviously real-life experience in here somewhere (if not everywhere) to draw from, you can hear how that incredible connection he’s got strengthens even more, and translates right over to us.  I like that you can hear the guy actually SMILING as he’s singing this song and reflecting on these memories he’s sharing with us…and there are extremely clever moments along the way, like around the 1:35 mark where he’ll sing the word “weird” and you’ll notice that it’s the only word in the entire song that even comes with a noticeable warble to emphasize the effect by the most subtle of means.  Maybe those are the kind of details you notice like I do, or maybe they fly by right over your head while you’ve listened and you’re just reading about it now – doesn’t really matter – the point is that we’re talking about a split-second’s worth of detail in an entire song, and that’s how much focus Joho’s putting into it.  I think he’s got a spectacularly sweet love song that’s written in the aftermath of a distanced crush that never quite made it to that next phase, but still made a resounding impact on the heart & mind of Joho.  It’s honestly endearing AF, and would be a tough one to resist for anyone that’s ever loved from afar.

I think it was right around “Truman” in the middle of this EP where I just started to smile, realizing that it’s just gonna BE LIKE THIS, ain’t it Joho?  He’s got his foot hangin’ right over all the hearts & minds of all us listeners out there…in full control of the FACT that he KNOWS he really can’t lose when it comes to making music with these brilliant mixes of emotionally complex thoughts and audible sweetness he’s got on display like this.  He could stomp us out with an endearing line, or a quick shift in the melody of his voice will bring us right into the days he spent at the Upper Campus of Trinity in Houston and have us feeling how he felt through the vivid detail & way he sings his words.  It ain’t hyperbole here folks, I’ve told ya time & time again he’s an exceptional talent out there in this scene we share, and we’re lucky to have him while we do – Joho’s future has limitless possibilities that’ll take him as far as he wants to go.  I appreciate this song beyond words I could write down here for ya…”Truman” makes comparisons to the movie & the show featured inside of it…and I think it’s part of what bonds us creatives all together – not the Truman Show itself, but that idea that we’re somehow the focus point the world around us watches for their own amusement…the questioning of WTF is actually real on this planet.  In particular though, once you hear Joho hit this spot of the song with the melody he sings with and the background harmonies on-point and sincerity dripping from his every syllable…you really have to marvel at just how captivating this artist is, and how insightfully he’s crafting his tunes at this point in his career.  Joho knows exactly what works, he knows what connects – he doesn’t exploit this, fuck – it’s more like he invented it, you dig?  That’s what this record really feels like it proves…these are songs inside him, and they’re coming out in the most natural of forms…sure they’re written, rehearsed, and polished up to a degree of course, but the organic gravitational pull to his personality & charm on a song like “Truman” is undeniable.  Essentially, you can find him in any kind of song or style, but his X-factor, cannot be hidden.  I love the fact that every single one of the songs on this record are actually relatively short, and the sheer amount of hooks you’ll find inside of each one from verse to chorus & beyond, should in fact, blow your freakin’ mind for such a subtle set – Joho’s got the art of the reveal running through this whole EP from the details he’s placed surrounding him in the music, and spectacular finales you’ll find in the last twists he’s been adding at the end of each cut, which fully prove he’s working ‘til the very final seconds.

If I DID have to choose a favorite, I’d be splitting the tiniest of hairs to do so, just like I told ya from the get-go when this whole review started.  BUT…I think I might actually go with the EP’s shortest cut if someone pinned me down to answer…if anything, I suppose it’s fair to say that “You Say, I Say” has the record’s most defining and memorable moment, with what’s quite likely the ultimate highlight to be found on all of Upper Campus.  I was just talking about trusting the process the other day in a different review…for those of you following along, “You Say, I Say” is another cut that completely proves the point I was making.  On that first spin, in those first moments, I wasn’t sure this song was going to hit it out of the park as hard as the initial three did…but I don’t judge any tune or record by just one spin; I trust the process, I listen, I absorb…and either I find my way in, or its simply revealed through clever songwriting.  That’s a bit of the case here when it comes to “You Say, I Say” – for a brief moment, I was convinced it might just be a good ol’ ordinary tune…but it really didn’t take long at all for Joho to change my mind.  Approximately twenty-five seconds I suppose…it was right around that first significant twist in the vocal melody that I knew he was building towards something even bigger…and he delivers perfectly on that early promise he shows, lighting it up around the ninety second mark with the most heartfelt & powerfully moving moment you’ll find on Upper Campus.  Singing “there are girls all around the world but baby you, you’re just what I’m looking for,” Joho gets right to the core of what he’s wanted to express in this entire set…you can consider this to be kind of the central statement & sentiment that a lot of these songs seem to tie-in with & tap into.  It’d be pretty damn tough not to like or love this tune – Joho nails the Indie/Pop vibes here like he’s had the years of experience a band like Feeder has had in their decades of writing songs…”You Say, I Say” is built of melody that just gets more & more addictive as you listen.  I know this to be true, because I’m pretty much a raving fiend for this whole record at this point in time, and every time Joho hits that quote I’ve pulled for ya, it never gets any less spectacular – he’s got an astounding way of putting his perspective, thoughts, and emotions out there without compromise or sacrificing the suspension of disbelief we need – he makes every moment REAL for us.

Alright…I’ve finally figured it out, and it should have occurred to me already…it’s a classical guitar with nylon strings, not a ukulele…or at least, I feel more sure about that now in listening to “Making It Up As We Go” than I was on “Liberal Arts” at the start.  Full disclaimer (of which I should probably place at the start of every review) I don’t actually know anything about anything, I just write stuff I think about & ramble too much for any reasonable person to withstand.  And I know what I like to hear, and once again, this is that.  “Making It Up As We Go” has a more intentionally rhythmic design for Joho to lean on and gives us a bit more of tangible melody to guide the music that is more balanced with its presence & the vocals alongside it.  I suppose if you were to pick a single, this is likely it…which…I mean…what kind of fresh hell are we living in when “Making It Up As We Go” is the most logical choice to please listeners en-masse?  I don’t want anyone out there to get it twisted, so I’ll say it plain as day – it’s still a killer tune and easily just as much of an A-side as the rest of this stripped-back & subtle set is – but I think there’s arguably so much more gripping emotion and deeper dives into his writing to be found before this final cut.  So yeah, I mean I get it, a snazzy beat or rhythm is likely always gonna be the go-to when it comes to providing a gateway in for the people out there, and there’s no denying “Making It Up As We Go” is just as strong as the rest when it comes right down to it…but c’mon folks…we gotta start acknowledging, valuing & recognizing how sincerity, charm, and endearing melody can have so much more of a lasting impact on us at some point, don’t we?  The real truth is, you get a solid mix of both worlds here in this last cut – you get a higher degree of universal accessibility, but you also get a good dose of the authentic magic and intimately sweet melody that has made this entire record fantastic from start to finish as well.

The king stays the king as far as I’m concerned.  Joho’s on an undeniable hot-streak with his music and tapped right into his creativity, style, and sound of choice, in all the right ways throughout the set of five on Upper Campus.  This entire set he’s got here will hold up completely strong over time, and it’s more confirmation – if not THE confirmation – that at the heart of it all, it’s Joho that makes these songs really work & move us as listeners, in whatever style he’s chosen for that moment he’s in.  This acoustic-folk based vibe he’s rockin’ gently with is absolutely suited to all his strengths in songwriting and his soulful vocals – and after the explicit ways his music has come out in the past, you gotta appreciate the cojones it would take as an artist to go this mellow, sweet, and sincere compared to so much of what a dude like Joho is known for within his catalog of tunes.  But that’s just the thing y’all…and it’s the point I’ve really been making all along here…Joho talks a big game and rightly so, because he’s got all the talent & skill & ideas to back it up – but by that same token, you don’t get a sentimental record like this one is by faking it either.  I suspect we all get a real glimpse into the heart inside this man on this particular EP more-so than any other record he’s put out there so far…and in my opinion, that approach has delivered another massive home-run for Joho and proven once again that the more he puts into it personally, the more he gets out of it.  Word on the street is he’s goin’ Disco/Funk for the next record, rumored to be called Discotheque Funeral and dropping on April 23rd this year…which I’m just gonna go ahead and assume he’ll have no problem dominating in that style & genre set as well, because that’s all this man ever does.

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