The highly anticipated debut album Juno from Los Angeles musician Remi Wolf is a nonstop parade of funky beats, whimsical lyrics and kaleidoscopic visuals. It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that she is a sonic trailblazer, paving the way for a total makeover of what the term “pop music” even means. However, the album’s repetitive instrumentals would benefit from a little more variation in tempo and rhythm from song to song, and her high-pitched synth and vocals become a little too harsh at times.
A graduate of the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and a former “American Idol” contestant, Wolf is a seasoned professional in the music industry. Released Oct. 15, Juno is her first full-length album, though she has released two EPs, one remix album and numerous hit singles over the past two years. Her viral song “Photo ID” and subsequent remix with singer Dominic Fike soundtracked the summer of 2020, skyrocketing Wolf into TikTok fame.
Wolf’s early work easily fits into the category of bedroom pop, but Juno is a much more ambitious project that is harder to define. Though many artists like to dip their toes in multiple genres, Wolf has invented an entirely new style of music for herself. The influence of R&B and soul is clear in her record’s consistently funky rhythm and percussion, but her high-pitched vocals and brash synths also bring her music into the hyperpop arena. It’s a praiseworthy achievement, though sometimes the album’s most interesting elements get lost in the overwhelming noise.
Most notably, “Sexy Villain” stands out with its playful melody that sticks in your head for days after the first listen. Wolf uses multiple references to comic book heroes and real-life serial killers to show how she precariously walks the line between being a toxic partner and, well, a sexy villain. The title is reminiscent of iconic queer-coded Disney villains such as Ursula and Cruella de Vil, and Wolf expertly seems to both embrace and subvert the stereotype.
In striking contrast to the blithe confidence of “Sexy Villain,” “Grumpy Old Man” underscores her record’s more zany qualities. The prominent baseline creates a steady groove, coupled with maracas and fun sound effects. Wolf’s exaggerated Southern accent while singing “Got that long hair, long beard, turtleneck sweater” shows that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Similarly, the ridiculous, sometimes nonsensical, lyrics of “Quiet on Set,” from “Eating my ass like the human centipede” to “Orgy at Five Guys with five guys/ That’s 10 guys and Holy Christ” demonstrate her witty spirit.
However, the record’s high-energy beats often mask Wolf’s clever lyrics and their deeper meanings that are only noticeable after several listens. “Liquor Store,” for example, deals with darker themes of addiction and self-doubt, and “Anthony Kiedis” references pandemic-era isolation. It’s a compelling stylistic choice, but Wolf would benefit from occasionally stripping away the chaos to focus on her impressive storytelling. Though repetition can be a useful tool, “Volkiano” and “Buttermilk” both fall into the trap of harsh one-word choruses that eventually lose all meaning. On the other hand, “Sally,” which starts soft and mellow, is a breath of fresh air and brings much-needed variation that is lacking elsewhere in the album.
The record’s title refers to her pet dog, a French bulldog whose image is pasted all over the album cover in a distorted collage. The album is just as visual as it is musical — with childlike aesthetics and vintage camera filters, the music videos for each song create a powerful sense of nostalgia. In one video, Wolf romps through a claymation candy land, and in another, she dances in front of crayon-drawn explosions seemingly shot through the lens of a fuzzy 2000s camcorder. If listeners don’t open their eyes as well as their ears, they’ll miss half the story.
All together, Juno is an impressive debut album that shows just how much Remi Wolf can do. Though her wild technicolor dream starts to feel monochromatic toward the end, Juno is undoubtedly a hallmark of pop music innovation.