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Jay Joseph

ALBUM REVIEW: Jay Joseph – Imaginary Friends

I have to hand it to Jay — he’s good, and he’s done it quickly.

There are three singles off the album: Maybe, Bones, and Let Go. I sort of wish that the album was ONE song longer, if only because the singles have been out for so long; it’s been six-ish months since the release of Bones.

First things first, it doesn’t sound like a beginner’s debut album. It isn’t clunky, and it doesn’t make you scratch your head and say, “was that on purpose?”. I’ve listened to many debut albums from both the failed and the famous. In both categories, artists typically start out like… well, like a five-year-old roller skating for the first time (I mean, as a rule of thumb, it’s probably not gonna be GOOD). The album delivers tons of depth by utilizing vocal layering, fun little sounds sprinkled throughout, bass lines that work to be different, and drums that get involved in not only the structure but the sound. Jay and the band put a lot of thought and work into making the album. So kudos.

While it’s on the shorter side, Jay Joseph’s eight-track album packs a lot into a twenty-four-minute runtime. Quite honestly, it plays like an EP.

I was hesitant to mention this because it’s vital to see Jay Joseph as an independent artist, but if I said I felt like Jay’s art wasn’t influenced by his brother, both sonically and visually, I’d be lying. For those of you who don’t know, Jay Joseph is the younger brother of Tyler Joseph of twenty one pilots. I saw him live when he opened for part of the Takeover Tour.

Truthfully, how can you not be influenced by your sibling? I would never have listened to as much Taylor Swift as I have without my sister, and I certainly wouldn’t be pressed about $50 purple pool floaties without her influence (Swifties know what’s up, GIVE US THE RERECORDS, I BEG). What’s important is, can Jay’s work stand on its own two feet and not feel like a carbon copy of twenty one pilots‘ earlier work? In Jay’s first release, a four-track EP named Drywall, it was hard not to feel like you were listening to a Blurryface knockoff. Don’t get me wrong; I listened to Gundabad an unhealthy amount… But even after he’s had some time to find his own sound, I’m not sure he has escaped, or at least iterated enough, on his influences. I’ve played Let Go off of Imaginary Friends to less-informed listeners, and the first thing they’ve said is, “It kind of sounds like twenty one pilots.”

It’s all sorts of frustrating. Even if I can see how different Jay is from his influences, I have to accept that he isn’t quite there yet.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how put-together, complex, and well-thought-out his songs are, he is still pulling from the twenty one pilots’ bag of tricks. Just, for instance, he uses the Blurryface-esque pitched-down backing vocals (Jay is Dead, Maybe), signature talk-rapping (Jay is Dead, Maybe, Haunt Me), and some heavy ukulele usage (Bones, Blackout City, Reaper). Certain songs avoid the influence, like Let Go and Haunt Me. But it’s also only an eight-track album; it’s hard to ignore.

All that being said, I want to be clear that I in no way intend to detract from the originality and quality of Imaginary Friends. As I said, he’s gotten very good quickly, and he certainly isn’t the first artist in this indie-alt, pop-rock genre that’s had to escape the “idk it kinda sounds like twenty one pilots” label. I listened to half alive‘s debut EP on release day back in 2017, and the number of people on Reddit calling them copycats was insane. But here we are! They did it! I truly believe if they could do it, so can Jay.

The fact is, the album is well done. I can tell there is experimentation, testing the waters with new sounds, instruments, and techniques. In my opinion, the real standouts are Let Go, Comfortable, and Blackout City, and these three are the most pop-sounding of the eight tracks. I’m excited for the next release, and I’m crossing my fingers that it escapes that pesky label.

Jay, if you’re reading this, ya got chops kid. You have talent, and you have skill. At the moment, it sort of feels like you’re searching for a story to tell. If that’s true, I’m excited to hear it. And trust your vocals! The few times you let yourself belt it, it was really fun.

Imaginary Friends by Jay Joseph was released on May 27th, 2022. It is available for streaming on all major platforms, and you can listen to it below!