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(Credit: Sophie Hur)

Music

Far Out First Impressions: Remi Wolf stays true with 'Juno'

@TylerGolsen
Remi Wolf - 'Juno'
7.4

There are two sides to Remi Wolf. Both are of equal importance, but they work in tandem (and sometimes in conflict) to create a singular sound. One side is the hyper pop element, which brings in elements of electronica and glitch pop through voice modulation, jacked up tempos, and a strong layer of silliness. The other side is a supremely soulful R&B singer who can stir up emotions with the best of them.

I spent most of Juno, Wolf’s debut album, waiting for the latter while trying to understand and appreciate the former. Like I said: they’re two sides of the same person, and a fair few songs on the LP find both sides of Wolf’s style either work together in harmony or discordantly clang against each other. One side is childish to a fault, and the other sounds wise beyond their years. But you can’t have one without the other.

Before the release of Juno, it was the explicitly soulful tracks of Wolf’s that always seemed to hit the hardest. ‘Liz’, a standalone single from earlier this year, just might be the artist’s best song. ‘Disco Man’ has some cheeky lyrics, but its groove makes it a killer tune. ‘Photo ID’ leans a little more to the pop side, but once those G-funk synths come in, all bets are off. The balance was precarious, but it always seemed to work out.

The hyper pop is front-loaded on Juno: ‘Liquor Store’ is the gleefully profane album opener, ‘wyd’ has its own disco-like thump, but its lines about escargot and bones to pick are part of the child-like persona. ‘Anthony Kiedis’ has lines that the Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman would be proud of, referencing middle-aged soccer moms and talking to Jesus while making doughnuts. These songs are funny and goofy good time soundtracks, but they’re always boarding on being too inane for their own good. Wolf has proven to be an incisive lyricist, but when she leans too far into that playful absurdity, it starts to feel like one big, overlong joke.

These are all purposefully placed – just like the garish album cover and some of the wackier fashion choices Wolf employs, it serves to establish a slight barrier of entry. Upon the first examination, everything seems like a 12-year-old on a sugar rush, complete with dog obsessions and an entire monologue about the dangers of getting lost in the store at the end of ‘Quiet On Set’. That pitch-shifted ramble (which starts with “I’m a little baby!”) was the closest I came to tuning out, just utterly annoyed that this bizarre detour was taking over the entire back third of the song. Was the whole album going to be like this?

And then, almost like it was meant as a test, the rest of the album returns to the more soulful side of Wolf. Tracks like ‘Front Tooth’, ‘Sexy Villain’, and ‘Street You Live On’ bring back those indelible grooves while Wolf gets to highlight her versatile singing voice. The more conventional she turns, like the relatively straightforward love song ‘Buzz Me In’ or the lamenting on ‘Sally’, the more significant the impact. That’s because Wolf is so unconventional that it becomes overwhelming when she leans into it. When she actually takes herself seriously, it’s incredibly exciting to listen to.

The musical references on Juno are unsurprisingly varied: ‘Sally’ has elements of trip-hop, ‘Sexy Villain’ is slow-burning R&B jam, ‘Buttermilk’ relies heavily on the endless layers of harmonies that cover a backing track that sounds like its straight out of a Mario game. Never afraid to jump between styles, Wolf arranges it all to sound like a sonic explosion, throwing everything in the room plus the kitchen sink at you.

Juno doesn’t ease you into the Remi Wolf experience: it completely submerges you. Does it always work? Not really, and there were plenty of times during the album where I felt annoyed by the day-go kids birthday party that the record wants to be. But when Wolf takes herself a little more seriously, the results are downright superb.

It’s two sides of the same coin, and it’s hard for me to say if one would still work without the other. Wolf still has some tweaking to do with the formula – a little more ‘Volkiano’ and a little less ‘Quiet On Set’. But Juno is still a vibrant and joyous listen from a true upstart talent. No one else wounds like Remi Wolf, and it would be a shame if too much meddling took away that uniqueness. Kids birthday parties can be fun sometimes, as long as you loosen up and just go with the flow.